Skills for Care

Supporting equality and diversity when working with GEMS newly qualified social workers

24 Oct 2022

5 min read

Skills for Care

  • Culture and diversity
  • Social work

Members of Skills for Care’s Group for Ethnic Minority Social Workers share with us what employers need to know to support diversity in the workplace.

With thanks to Alesha Pinto, Bridget Lewally-Taylor, Jenny Green and others who contributed anonymously.


Skills for Care runs the Group for Ethnic Minority Social Workers (GEMS) which provides a space for newly qualified social workers (NQSWs) from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds to discuss their experiences of the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE), understanding of anti-racist practice issues, and ways to deal with racism.

We spoke to members of the group to hear more about their experiences on the ASYE programme, challenges they faced, and their advice on how to foster an inclusive work environment.

Awareness, acknowledgement and understanding of what racial equity means is important for employers, as it can help to create a more resilient and empowered workforce.


ASYE experience

One GEMS member we spoke with, Alice*, told us she faced challenges during her ASYE programme. At the beginning of the programme, Alice, a black NQSW, was enthusiastic and thrived on the opportunity to learn and develop social work practice, skills and knowledge. As time progressed, she began to feel demotivated, as she felt she was experiencing differences in allocation of work compared to her white NQSW peer who was also in the same team. These felt like subtle differences to Alice, for example, she was given more complex work without adequate support at an earlier stage. As a relatively new NQSW she was not yet at a stage where she felt fully confident in the expectations of the role or of what was expected of her. At the same time her peer was receiving less complex work and experienced more flexibility and support. Alice began to wonder whether conscious or unconscious racial bias was a factor in the manager’s behaviour.

These and other experiences led Alice to begin to feel overwhelmed, unsupported, and inadequate, which caused her to consider leaving the ASYE, or even leaving social work altogether.

Fortunately, her ASYE facilitator and NQSW peers provided a safe and empowering environment for her to offload her concerns and seek support and guidance She was able to discuss her concerns about whether racial bias could have been a factor in what she was experiencing. She was supported to find ways to communicate her feelings to managers and to reflect on her own reactions to what was happening. She had sought support to be ‘heard’ and for her feelings to be validated. This empowered Alice to seek the best possible outcome for herself and to improve the situation. This is just one example of the kinds of issues GEMS NQSWs experience and must navigate over and beyond that of being a newly qualified social worker.

Using collaborative feedback from members of our GEMS network we’ve put together some tips on fostering a culture of equality, diversity, and inclusion in your workplace. These tips have been created specifically by NQSWs for ASYE settings but could be adapted by all workplaces to support the needs of their teams.


Tips for employers

Acknowledge - don’t assume

Don’t make assumptions about capabilities or preference – for example, with case allocations assuming a worker would ‘get on well’ or ‘identify with’ people who draw on support or carers because they’re from similar backgrounds.


Open the conversation

Race-related conscious or unconscious biases happen but countering that means creating a safe space for open and transparent conversations to be held. Not everyone will experience an issue but NQSWs should be supported and encouraged to share feelings, without fear that they will be perceived negatively for speaking out. Encourage your workers to join forums such as GEMS where they can connect with like-minded social workers.


Check what support they need

Remind and support NQSWs to ask ‘why’ questions when cases are allocated to them. They should feel safe to express their feelings about case suitability or ask for support. Don’t presume a worker can manage a case because they agree to it. Teams should be mindful that some NQSWs feel the pressure of the role more than others; they could be putting on a brave face because they don’t want to seem incapable by comparison to more experienced colleagues.


Offer ongoing support

Make sure to provide ongoing post-ASYE support, including tailored support for people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. This includes tackling the subtle day-to-day biases that can occur, both during and post-ASYE. If organisations can consciously consider these factors, it could support overall staff retention, increase job satisfaction, and boost the overall morale of diverse teams within organisations.


Find out more about GEMS.

View our Black History Month spotlight.

*Name changed

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