Women working to support women in the welfare sphere: psychosocial challenges

Summary

This project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, will investigate the psychosocial wellbeing and personal welfare of women workers in organisations offering therapeutic, advocacy, support and/or practical support to socially isolated and economically marginalised women and girls.

In addition to pre-existing challenges, women are bearing a disproportionate burden of the negative impacts of COVID-19 and associated restrictions. UN Women (2020) declared gender inequalities a pandemic consequence; increased workloads in the home and workplace and increasingly precarious lower-wage frontline posts are a significant part of the gender imbalance. Community-based organisations play a crucial role in addressing the unmet needs of marginalised women and girls, with COVID-19 greatly increasing demand for their services. The pandemic has potentially exacerbated pre-existing psychosocial distress amongst this workforce. Workers, who are mainly women, have had to rapidly adapt and re-align their services to respond to stressed and traumatised service users, in demanding and markedly transformed working environments, whilst also navigating the disruptive impact of the pandemic within their personal lives. The research will investigate the cumulative effects of intensified client need, changing work conditions, and additional domestic caring responsibilities, on the psychosocial wellbeing and personal welfare of women workers, many of whom come from the same communities and share the same experiences as their clients.

The project will adopt a multi-method approach:

  1. A review and synthesis of existing materials published by organisations on individual, organisational and structural challenges, providing an empirical basis for discussions about the impact on services;
  2. An online survey to gain understanding of pandemic-related changes to service demand, adjustments to ways and models of working and service delivery, changes in staffing capacity, resource constraints and other organisational challenges and changes;
  3. Semi-structured interviews at two different times during the project, in order to chart the psychosocial effects on workers as they adapt to pandemic-era conditions;
  4. The use of psychometric scales to measure distress and workplace experience during interviews with workers.

The research team will develop an evidence base which deepens theoretical understanding of how women workers’ psychosocial wellbeing can affect their workplace participation. Findings will be disseminated through a variety of methods: mini briefings of emergent findings provided to participating organisations; academic articles and a freely available final report; policy briefings and workshops will be used to help guide and inform professional networks, policy makers and other stakeholders. It is hoped that the research will contribute to response and recovery efforts tailored to support women. Findings will be relevant to the current situation as well as workplace health and safety, and preparedness for work with marginalised populations during future experiences of sudden structural change in ways of working.

The project builds upon earlier work by members of the team, including a study of vicarious traumatisation in those working with young women in criminal justice settings.

The Team:

  • Professor Michele Burman, University of Glasgow
  • Dr Annie Crowley, University of Glasgow
  • Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe, University of Cambridge
  • Dr Joana Gomes Ferreira, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Robin Robinson, University of Massachusetts (Dartmouth)