It was a pleasure to facilitate the first day of my UW-Madison Continuing Studies course focused on promoting women leaders in human services fields. Many women in these fields carry so much emotional load! Human services professionals sustain and heal our world, and so often raise their voices in advocacy for people with the least resources in society. As the mother of a young social worker starting her career, I feel especially committed to providing empowering spaces for women in these fields.
These 49 participants were an inspiring group, with their energy and hope. When I asked them to type in the chat why they had joined this class, beautiful aspirations came up: encouraging others, leaning into values, refreshment, promoting diverse leadership, mentorship, contributing to a respectful and inclusive workplace culture, investing in themselves and their growth and skill development, learning how to support young people, and learning how to empower themselves through challenges.
My work over many years has taught me about all kinds of obstacles for women leaders, from unconscious biases to glass ceilings, “caregiver penalties” (especially for mothers), pay gaps, sexual harassment, and intersectional discrimination faced by women of color. Human services professionals encounter many of the same challenges that women in all fields can face. But when I presented on career obstacles and challenges, and conducted an anonymous poll during our session, the top two items checked by this group were “compassion fatigue/burnout” and “unrewarded emotional labor.”
These are, of course, societal issues. We are asking way too much of and cutting far too many of the funds for our helping professionals—already a disproportionately female group. In our next session together, we’ll be unpacking these issues and talking about how to address them personally, collectively, and structurally. It’s an honor to be part of that journey. I hope I can contribute in some small way to lightening the load of our social workers, health care providers, nonprofit professionals, and other human services leaders, and encouraging their leadership.