Saturday, 30 January 2010

A little culture shock

Wow what a busy week, culminating in the training session on difference, diversity and inclusion for social workers (mentioned in last Sunday's post) that turned out to be in the upstairs room of the pub closest to my house. (I didn't receive directions for the training venue until an hour before it was to occur - all very 'treasure hunt'.)

One thing I have noticed about social workers: they do casual very well. They made me look over-dressed and that really is a rarity. I liked this because I personally struggle to look 'polished' every work day - physically and mentally. Yesterday, I was a social misfit from the opposite direction.

To set the scene a bit - my background is in education and therefore when I am talking to teachers, I have a shared understanding that is so 'there' I am not really even aware of it. I have worked with youth workers, school nurses, people from youth offending teams, people from the voluntary sector and various other agencies but not often in a capacity where I am training them. So there was a bit of a 'culture' shock and it was a new and therefore learning experience for me. The learning was not so much about what I was delivering (I am pretty sure there are good messages in there and it evaluated very well) but about how the training is 'received' from a different field of professionals and therefore a slightly different perspective.

We spoke about stereotyping, challenged personal prejudices, considered different reactions to different minorities, briefly looked at law, explored different types of 'anti-diversity' (from blatant discrimination to more subtle forms), looked at media attitudes, considered their organisation's current approach towards addressing diversity and inclusion issues and explored how hard it is to imagine being an 'outsider' when you are part of the majority 'institution' (One person gave a great example about going to Appleby Horse Fair - the largest Traveller horse fair in the UK and how she felt, strongly like an outsider - like she had never experienced before in her life) etc etc. Lots of good stuff...

However, the message I had been asked specifically to deliver, (if you remember/read Sunday's post) was that sexism towards men was just as unacceptable as sexism towards women. The chap who had made the complaint about his colleagues' behaviour was not present. I am still not sure whether that was a good thing (save his embarrassement) or a bad thing (he could see it was being addressed). I managed to deliver this message at a point in the training where I believe I had 'won them over' and there was some nodding in the room and several what-I-call, penny dropping expressions. One person even enhanced my message by reiterating it in terms of the difference in attitude they felt towards the man and woman in a physically abusive relationship. They always assume the woman needs protecting more than the man when clearly, in some cases, this had not turned out to be true. Teachers don't tend to say things like that.

Then we spoke about language. Courteous and respectful language towards any 'group' is important and language can unfortunately be a very powerful tool in denigrating and disrespecting others. However, my message is also that language is dynamic (words can develop negative connotations with time) and if a 'group' needs a label at all (in most cases they don't) ask them which 'label' they would be happy to be described with. Simple advice - for teachers. To which a social worker said (and completely earnestly),
'Yes I know, I never know what to write on the records - is it paedoph*le or person that s*xually abuses children?'

I have definitely never heard a teacher say that. It's a different world.


  1. My need to **** was not prudishness - I just don't want SPAM!

  2. w*s just going to *sk you that question.

    another great post.
    i would like to have been tucked in the back corner of that room for that discussion. i could learn a lot.

  3. Hmm when is a label not a label, eh?

  4. Oh for goodness sake - and to think I was thinking of becoming a social worker about eight years ago. Even went so far as one term of an access course to get on the SW course at Southampton - only then we decided to have a real change and move to France. I bet I wouldn't have said such a silly thing though!

  5. "When is a label not a label?"
    When it is the wrong description.

    I have a bone of contention with the title Social Workers, to my mind a more definite description would be Social Observers.
    A minor fire at a friends home: the SW turned up started twittering away. So I pointed him to a cloth & bucket of soapy water, indicating a smoky wall was where he could start if he was there to help. I have never seen such a rapid exit! This unfortunately is not an isolated case thus I really do believe that they need a change of title!

  6. Dear Heron, your point is a good one, but I was thinking of "paedoph*le or person that s*xually abuses children"

  7. I too have been to a huge gyspy horse fayre and felt exactly the same way. Truly truly felt like an outsider more than I ever have abroad or living in a foreign country. Southall in London perhaps comes a close second. It was really really interesting to be in this situation.

    I think social workers would be very different in such a training session considering it's their "arena". Teachers are taught to be teachers and generally only dabble in these fields - wrongly or rightly.

  8. Hello Cogitator I am/was aware of that ... but used it as an opener to post my point of view !

  9. was actually 'fun'. I like to make people laugh...helps with the messages!

    Codgi - I don't get what you mean? Labels are actually rarely needed in most day to day situations.

    FF - I was chatting to one of the SW in the coffee break about her role and it is clear to me I would be far too soft to do such a job. She had been in care herself as a child and at 6 months into the job, she was still motivated by 'wanting to make a difference.' She said she left a house the day before and wanted to take all seven children home with her.

    Freddie - I went to the Watton Horse Fair and felt the same. It was an amazing experience - not just because of further understanding of being an outsider - but for witnessing such an interesting culture - there - just down the road... The only other time I have felt like that was when I went to London Pride. Yes aside from teh sexism towards men (!) the social workers were pretty hot on diversity and inclusion - so the debates were quite refreshing.


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