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Women in Social Work: Resources in North Carolina

Written by Jack Levinson

creating community in womens' group

According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), women make up the majority of social work professionals. Despite this, they are still subject to bias, gender-based discrimination, harassment, and other injustices faced by women across professional backgrounds.

For a long time, social workers have been invested in leveling out the playing field in the profession, creating better opportunities for women and eliminating experiences of bias and sexism.

Thanks to the efforts of feminist social workers over the last several decades, important strides have been made to acknowledge the incredible contributions of women to the social work field and to make the profession a welcoming, inclusive, and safe place for women to work. But there is still significant work to be done, and young women (and men) who are entering the social work profession can make a considerable impact in redressing the existing inequalities in the social work arena.

Key Issues for Women Social Workers

When talking about the issues faced by women social workers, it’s important to distinguish them from the women’s causes social workers seek to support in their work. As practitioners, many social workers are focused on issues specifically affecting women, such as reproductive rights and health care, issues of gender-based violence and harassment, sexual assault, and more. Within the field of social work itself, women professionals face a separate host of concerns related primarily to workplace equality, from systemic gendered pay disparities to barriers to leadership positions.

Indeed, the difficulties faced by women in the workforce across professions extends too to the social work community. In light of the immense contributions of women to the social work discipline and the preponderance of women-identified professionals in the field, this is particularly egregious, demonstrating how widespread gender inequality is in the American workplace.

In light of these systemic issues, women social workers have found strength and solidarity by connecting and directing targeted advocacy efforts to expose current conditions and improve them for the future. These actions have already gone far in improving workplace environments for women and chipping away at the pay gap in the field. However, there is still work to be done.

Mothers and pregnant women who are social workers can also face particular difficulties, as their labor is frequently emotionally taxing, leaving little room to account for their familial responsibilities. Supportive workplace policies, flexible schedules, and resources for self-care are essential in mitigating these challenges and fostering the well-being of women social workers, allowing them to sustain fulfilling and impactful careers.

For these reasons, more and more resources have become available to help women social work students and practitioners alike unite, sharing knowledge and firsthand experiences to help support one another’s professional efforts. By creating female-driven spaces and communities, they have been able to advance women’s causes in the field as well as create important supportive relationships that can help empower individuals facing hardships in their professional environments.

Jane Addams and the Historic Role of Women in Social Work

jane addams

Women have not just contributed to the development of social work in the United States; they are the reason it exists in the first place. Indeed, the nation’s first social work organization, Hull House, was founded by Jane Addams (1860-1935), a pioneering figure who started the Chicago-based settlement center for the impoverished immigrant population. For this work she is widely recognized as the founder of American social work.

Addams’ vision for Hull House deeply influenced the way social workers continue to approach their occupations today. Recognizing the unique and far-reaching needs of immigrants to the U.S., Addams created the center to help empower these individuals, providing holistic support to help create more equal opportunity for people of all backgrounds. This idea of all-encompassing services – from childcare, healthcare, education, and cultural activities – deeply informed what has become a defining philosophy of the social work profession: that those who live in poverty frequently have numerous overlapping needs which each must be addressed individually as well as taken as a whole.

Addams’ work extended far beyond Hull House into broader advocacy efforts in the arenas of labor rights, women’s suffrage, and peace. Her dedication to social justice extended beyond providing direct services to individuals to addressing the systemic issues behind inequality and injustice. This understanding of the interconnectedness of social issues was revolutionary, transforming our understanding of poverty, education, healthcare, and political rights. These principles later led her to co-found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), still among the largest and most powerful advocacy organizations in the U.S.

Jane Addams is a deeply inspiring figure in American history, one whose principled stances and groundbreakingly effective institutions should be an inspiration to social workers and non-social workers, women and men alike. If you are a woman in the social work profession, you can be especially proud to participate in the ongoing project that Addams started to better the lives of underserved people in America.

The following index is intended to help women social workers build bridges to create stronger solidarity in the profession and to provide a deeper, research-based understanding of the issues women social workers continue to face. There are also educational materials that can illuminate these issues for social work practitioners of all gender identities, helping them create more inclusive, welcoming, feminist practices overall.

For those looking for resources for social work students and practitioners devoted to women’s causes, read on.

American Association of University Women (AAUW)

While not specific to social work, this national organization is committed to advancing gender equity and supporting women’s professional development through education and advocacy. Their extensive resources include educational materials on a wide range of women’s issues as well as seminars, professional training, educational funding opportunities, and more.

Black Girls in Social Work

BGSW is a support and networking organization designed specifically to connect Black women in the social work arena across the United States, from students to practitioners. They offer online resources to introduce social work professionals to one another as well as a biennial Homecoming Weekend conference. Good news for North Carolina-based social workers: the 2025 Homecoming conference will be held in Charlotte, NC.

CSWE: Council on the Role and Status of Women in Social Work Education

This initiative by the Council on Social Work Education is focused on the experiences of women social workers working in the educational arena (i.e., in Master of Social Work programs or related fields). It offers a variety of social work career resources including professional mentorship, networking events, scholarships and grants, and more.

The International Federation of Social Workers: Women’s Issues

This report from the IFSW provides an extensive, research-based overview of the recent history of women’s rights legislation in an international context. It is an excellent educational document for social workers seeking to understand women’s issues globally and the current measures taken by the United Nations and other international organizations to advance women’s causes.

North Carolina Chamber of Commerce: Women Lead NC: Raleigh and Charlotte

These annual conferences, taking place in both Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina, provide leadership development, networking and mentorship opportunities, and other professional services to women from all disciplinary backgrounds. Please note that the conferences in each city take place on different dates.

North Carolina Women United

Though not specifically focused on the social work field, this organization focuses on promoting social, political, and economic equality for women in North Carolina in all disciplines through advocacy and education.

Women NC

Women NC is an organization helping female students at colleges and universities across the state of North Carolina conduct research on gender inequity to inform policy proposals and other advocacy efforts. This can extend to social work students, who have the opportunity to research gender bias and inequality within their own field, helping them become champions for change.

Western Kentucky University: Women Social Workers: A Roadmap to Gender Equality

This report by Gayle Mallinger and Saundra Starks provides a detailed, research-based account of the history of feminist causes in social work and the issues women social workers continue to face in the field. It is an excellent primer for those seeking more historical and theoretical grounding in the topic of women in social work.