Social workers play many roles. As advocates, change agents, case managers, educators, facilitators, and organizers, Social Workers play an important part in helping people and communities make positive changes in their lives. Despite their under-representation in elected positions throughout the United States, Social Workers are excellently prepared to run with these positions and build a better life for their constituents.
An Understanding of Advocacy
Elected officials represent their constituents. They must be able to understand the needs of those constituents and what it will take to get said needs met. This is the essential element of advocacy and something that Social Workers excel at. While those in other fields also learn to perform advocacy, Social Workers constantly prioritize listening to their clients and trying to understand each individual’s viewpoint.
A Large Network
Running for any elected position requires networking. With a career emphasizing the importance of social connections, many Social Workers are already involved in community groups, advocacy organizations, volunteering, and client service that can help an election campaign. Leveraging networks and connections allows one to more effectively spread their message. This is a huge benefit, both throughout the process of running for election as well as fulfilling the responsibilities of the position.
A Deep Understanding of Policy
City Councillors make policy. State legislatures write laws. Most elected officials will be working in some kind of policy writing role that requires an understanding of the impact of their decisions. The accumulated training and experience that Social Workers have makes them excellent in this role. Not only will they understand the direct effects of policies like closing schools during COVID-19 or adding a beverage tax, but they will also be aware of the less obvious effects – for example, how these changes will affect people in poverty.
More than nearly any other career, Social Work requires an in-depth assessment and awareness of personal bias. Considering the diversity of the United States, with citizens from all different walks countries, ethnicities, cultures, and linguistic backgrounds, this awareness of bias is extremely important. Social Workers can use their understanding of cultural competency to establish coalitions of diverse individuals and ensure that all stakeholders truly feel heard in a government environment that frequently does the opposite.
While there are 682,000 Social Workers in the United States, there are only 2 Social Work-Senators and 4 Social Work-Members of Congress. Compare that number to the 1.35 million lawyers in the United States and the 47 Lawyer-Senators and 145 Lawyer-Members of Congress. This means that there is 1 Senator-Social Worker for every 341,000 Social Workers in the United States, and 1 Member of Congress-Social Worker for every 170,500 Social Workers in the United States. On the other hand, there is one Lawyer-Senator for every 28,723 Lawyers in the United States and 1 Lawyer-Member of Congress for every 9,310 Lawyers!
Social workers are sharply underrepresented in these and various other elected positions compared to members of other career paths. Even so, based on their experiences and training, Social Workers could create very positive and impactful changes in these roles.