29 Mar 2021

Supervisor resource 10 - Diversity, power and professional development

Supervisor resource 10 - Diversity, power and professional development

Welcoming diversity

Welcoming diversity, creating a space for individual learning needs and development of new staff in a complex field of practice takes deliberate effort. Balancing this with the use of a supervisor’s professional and any line manager authority are some of the challenges of professional leadership.

Acknowledging protected characteristics, assumed cultural norms and values, with supervisees, supports the core values of anti-oppressive practice in social work.

It is important to ask about and understand subjective experience. Individual characteristics should be acknowledged even when they seem self-evident. For example, there is still a disproportionate number of male managers when 80% of social workers are women and either ignoring or overcompensating for such dynamics can impact confidence and trust.

Supervisors create a space that welcomes the use of self in our work with people using services. This might include the incorporation of LGBTQIA identities and any dynamics felt by the supervisee even if not observed by the supervisor.

Negotiation and contracting also helps when exercising multiple roles. For example, the need to offer restorative supervisory support around disability dynamics that arise in the role if raised by supervisees, while as a line manager needing to offer a clear process for any necessary employee adjustments.

“We have started using individual contracts and reflecting on supervision histories. That has allowed deeper conversations to talk about what people feel they need and the signs if they are not doing well but to the case-discussion focus is a difficult default to shift”.

Local Authority Manager

Issues such as gender, disability and sexuality that must be acknowledged in a helping relationship such as supervision. Another example of inclusion, because of excellent practice in challenging discrimination and removing barriers to training and professional roles, we are thankfully seeing more people in the workforce with lived experience of care services.

The Promise Scotland recognises that the workforce is also made up of survivors of trauma. Those with lived experience must be supported to be part of the workforce and nurture their instinct to give back, but there must be recognition of the pain that may accompany that involvement.  

Cultural issues are significant factors in supervisory relationships. Responsibility for working with that difference is shared by both parties, whether these are diversities of major cultural or faith communities, experiences of first generation Scots or workers from Scottish traveller backgrounds. Cultural diversity should be welcomed rather than subsumed by professional or role expectations.

Using our power in facilitating learning and development

The container for development is primarily the relationship rather than the content according to Lakey (2020). To facilitate rapport and trust he urges that we can make even obvious diversity issues explicit including gender, class, age and minority issues.

He suggests rather than assuming a shared understanding due to professional identity we must acknowledge organisational power and how, for different people, that may have a greater or lesser impact in their engagement. His approach applied to supervision and professional development suggests that unpacking the NQSW’s stance toward supervision and previous experiences along with emotional and learning styles ​are essential to build a strong container that allows for real development.

Acknowledging and working with those issues might give rise to resistance but going towards this can allow for real change rather than performing a role.

How do good leaders engage?

  • Value diversity
  • Validate importance of relationships
  • Are approachable and responsive
  • Model Good Practice
  • Support, Coach and mentor
  • Are Active and Purposeful

Enablers of leadership

  • People feel supported, valued and respected
  • Work and achievements are acknowledged
  • People have a voice and are treated fairly
  • There is a culture of reflection, learning and development

These ideas are drawn from the resource SSSC – Enabling Leadership

Personality styles are another factor of diversity pertinent to the learning and development task of supervision. Models often identify where we might be on a continuum informed by our ongoing trait, development, or even attachment styles.

Some traits sound like they would be more desirable however our relationships and organisations need variety. There are many models describing personality types including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. One of the most widely applied models of describing personality is the five-factor (Goldberg, 1990) or OCEAN model.     

  • Openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)
  • Conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. extravagant/careless)
  • Extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)
  • Agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/callous)
  • Neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. resilient/confident)

Another model of understanding diversity particularly regarding learning and development is the Multiple Intelligences Theory of Howard Gardiner. This gave rise to the more popular book on Emotional Intelligence by science journalist Daniel Goleman (1995). These can be helpful for considering the strengths and differences between supervisors and NQSW learning styles.

In working with and leading others we become vulnerable and at times may feel de-skilled given our perceived experience or seniority. A social worker who has been has applied vulnerability research to leadership roles is Brene Brown. Her work became widely known following her 2010 TEDx Houston talk, The Power of Vulnerability.

In 2019 she filmed a longer talk for Netflix which you can search for titled ‘A Call to Courage’. Brown argues that we need to work with vulnerability in all our relationships using simple self-talk such as ‘the story I’m telling myself is’… This acknowledges the way we use explanatory stories to understand our relationships but these stories may trigger our threat-protection system. This can be highly relevant to issues for supervisors of feeling they must present as confident in order to reassure supervisees or have authority to lead teams. In Call to Courage Brown says without vulnerability and tolerance of failure it’s impossible to have creativity and innovation in an organisation.

Useful ideas

  • Imagine an ethical dilemma arise of an NQSW who is feeling stuck with a risk-averse mother of a young disabled man called Robert. Robert identifies as gay and wants to be supported to go to appropriate venues and activities to seek a relationship, his mum is worried and the support provider is also hesitant.
  • What types of intervention could be used to support the NQSW to unpick the mother’s fears, the provider’s hesitance and their own views about the standard of ethical values and rights-based practice and the ethics of self-determination?
  • How could you help them to plan interventions?
  • Developed from the British Institute of Human Rights case study of ‘Robert’.

Go to supervisor resource 11 – Good supervision (including virtual practices)

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