Being elected president of NASW is a high honor, and I pledge to do my best to represent professional social workers, and to support the invaluable work that our members do, in every way I can. I want to thank outgoing President Jim Kelly, the rest of the national Board, and members of the NASW staff for all of their generous efforts to get me oriented to my new role.
As I begin my term, the national Board will be spending some additional time together in September so we can collaboratively set priorities for the next three years’ work. One thing we already know: We will continue to strive to be good stewards of members’ hard-earned dues while ensuring that NASW remains financially viable through other means.
When I was running for this office, I listed some keys goals that NASW needs to pursue:
- Addressing workforce issues, including recruiting the best, brightest and most diverse new professionals to the field.
- Advancing knowledge about social work practice and its cost-effectiveness.
- Promoting social policies that advance the profession, provide the services our clients and our communities depend on, and promote the protection of human rights.
As reports from our Center for Workforce Studies continue to show, we have gender-related challenges within the social work profession, including differences in compensation and career advancement. As a profession, we struggle with adequate compensation, recognition, and respect based on pay equity issues and the gendered perception of our work, whether males or females are doing it.
In our national political life, every recent federal budget-cutting effort and all of our major policy initiatives, like President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, have been complicated by regulations that seek to limit women’s access to the full range of reproductive health services they may want and need. Social Security and Medicare — our “entitlements” — will be a major focus of federal policy “reform” in the months and years to come. Compared to men, more women and people of color rely solely on their social security income benefits in old age. Women and children are the chief beneficiaries of its benefits, so they will be at special risk in cost-cutting efforts.
“Conscience clauses” at the state level are now being invoked to allow professionals to opt out of treating clients based on personal and/or religious beliefs and can be used to deny access to services to LGBTQ people, provisions modeled on federal legislation already in effect with respect to reproductive health care. Immigration “reforms” proceed in ways that fracture families and do not recognize the essential contributions to our nation made by those who come here from elsewhere.
The list of important policy matters with gendered effects is endless.
For all of these reasons, I will be making gender a theme in my activities as president. Gender is not just an issue for whites in the United States, as recent studies of the disadvantages in income and wealth among women of color have shown. Health disparities in the U.S. are related not just to race and ethnicity, but to gender as well. Gender is not just a U.S. concern; in global social development, it is known that investments in women and girls are more likely to yield immediate benefits for children, other family members and local communities.
On a positive note, we in social work have inspiring examples of women leaders, past and present, who have advanced the profession and changed the world for the better, such as Jane Addams and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Sen. Barbara Mikulski and the late Dr. Dorothy I. Height, to name just a few.
We now also have a Social Work Caucus in Congress, led by Rep. Edolphus (Ed) Towns, that leads advocacy efforts for the issues we care about. We have the Social Work Reinvestment Act, sponsored by Sen. Mikulski and Rep. Towns in their respective chambers, supported by a strong coalition of social work organizations and hundreds of thousands of individual social workers.
From this position of emerging strength, please join with me in efforts to advance our profession and address inequities and injustices wherever we encounter them. Our strength as a profession is undeniable, for ourselves and for our clients.