Women working to support women in the welfare sphere: psychosocial challenges examines the impacts upon women workers that may result from their work in third sector organisations with women who are experiencing various forms of social isolation, economic marginalisation and disadvantage. COVID-19 has intensified such inequalities, creating significant pressures on third sector support organisations and their predominantly female workforce.
Women are bearing a disproportionate burden of the negative impacts of COVID-19 and associated restrictions, which have led to increased workload for women in the home and workplace, and rendered lower-wage frontline posts ever more precarious (Wenham et al 2020). UN Women (2020) declared gender inequalities a pandemic consequence, documenting impacts on women globally, and directing attention to women workers.
Community-based organisations have seen demand for their services greatly increase due to COVID-19. The staff, who are mainly women, have had to rapidly adapt and re-align their services in order to respond to stressed and traumatised clients, in demanding and markedly transformed working environments, whilst also navigating the disruptive impact of the pandemic within their personal lives.
Building upon 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 research project explores the interplay of individual, organisational and structural challenges to the work, which often takes place in trauma-saturated environments.
Over 20 months, the research will identify, track and explore, the challenges and changes faced in the current and post-pandemic period, by women in third sector organisations across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, who work closely with marginalised girls and women. In doing so, it will investigate the cumulative effects of intensified client need, arduous work conditions, job security concerns, 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 research aims to identify:
a) factors and processes which exacerbate or diminish the impact of the pandemic on women workers in this sector;
b) innovative practices mitigating the traumagenic effects of this work, and;
c) insights to inform policies and models of working to support resilience and wellbeing and which uphold the welfare of a vital workforce.
In meeting these aims, the research team will develop an evidence base which deepens theoretical understanding of how women workers’ psychosocial wellbeing can affect their workplace participation. 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 research project is using a multi-methods approach with three main strands:
- Desk-based review
We will review and analyse existing materials published by organisations on individual, organisational and structural challenges, including materials published as a response to the COVID-19 situation. This will provide the basis for discussions about the impact on services, and inform the design of our other research tools.
- Online Survey
Managers/supervisors from organisations working with socially isolated and economically marginalised women and girls will complete this survey in order to provide an 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, changes, opportunities and innovation.
Semi-structured interviews will be conducted at two different times during the project with managers/supervisors, and frontline workers from a variety of organisations (selected for organisation type, size and geographical region). These will explore the impacts of the work upon workers psychosocial wellbeing, particularly during/post the COVID-19 pandemic.
We will share our findings through a variety of methods and means, many of which will be available on this website as they are produced. These will include: mini briefings of emergent findings provided to participating organisations; academic articles and a freely available final report; policy briefings and workshops to help guide and inform professional networks, policy makers and other stakeholders.