Conference Examines Diversity in Practice

In celebration of National Professional Social Work Month, the George Mason University Department of Social Work hosted a conference in March called “Diversity and Professional Practice: Exploring Cutting-Edge Issues for Policy and Practice.”

Rita Webb, NASW senior policy adviser, was among the guest speakers at the Washington event.

Webb talked about NASW’s efforts to reduce racism and, in particular, the development of the guide “Institutional Racism and the Social Work Profession: A Call to Action.” It was produced by a task force under the guidance of former NASW President Elvira de Silva as part of her “Weaving the Fabrics of Diversity” initiative during her term.

“NASW has always fought for the rights of all people regardless of their race, ethnicity, economic status, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, political beliefs, religion and mental and physical disability,” Webb told the audience.

While the U.S. is rich with resources and potential, diversity issues offer social workers and other advocates an opportunity to educate and work on behalf of vulnerable populations, she said.

Webb also explained the creation of NASW’s National Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity. It was established in 1994 by the NASW Board of Directors to promote conditions that encourage respect for the diversity of cultures including the promotion of equality.

The guide helps social workers, social work organizations and schools of social work address the issue of racism.

Webb said the publication, which can be downloaded for free at Institutional Racism & the Social Work Profession: a Call to Action (PDF) {}, provides definitions of institutional and structural racism.

It clarifies how racism is relevant to the social work profession and how racism can manifest in the systems where social work is practiced. “The emphasis is not on whether individual social workers are engaging in biased or racist practices, but rather, the focus is on the societal, institutional, structural maintenance of racism and the social workers’ role in reference to this macro level,” Webb said.

The guide also offers ways the profession can address structural racism, including creating conditions for realistic and positive outcomes.

Webb pointed out that future population projections show that by 2050, one in two Americans will be people of color.

“The responsibility of social workers is to be aware of how structural racism plays out in their personal and professional lives and to ameliorate its influence in all aspects of practice and to promote change within and among organizations at the societal level,” she said.