Alternative Title

Professionalism and anti-Blackness in social work agency culture

Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis

Study Type

Mixed methods


School for Social Work


Professional employees, Discrimination in employment, African Americans-Employment, African American social workers, Racism, Cultural competence, Professionalism, Anti-Blackness, Social work, Critical Whiteness studies, Workplace studies, Critical race theory, Organizational culture, Cultural competency


This exploratory study sought to answer two overarching research questions: (1) To what extent is there color-blind anti-Black bias in the way that professionalism is defined and enforced in social work agency culture? (2) What are exacerbating and ameliorating factors for this anti-Black bias? I developed a mixed-methods online questionnaire and recruited 246 participants via e-mail and Facebook. Participants were mostly White female social workers 18-39 years old, though the sample was disproportionately African American as compared with the general social worker population. When participants were asked if they perceived anti-Black bias in professionalism at their agencies, 42.7% answered yes while 57.3% answered no. A t-test demonstrated a significant difference in agencies’ percentage of African American staff members by reported bias (t(113) = 3.24, p = .002, two-tailed). Participants who answered yes to bias had a lower mean percentage of African American staff in their agencies (M = 2.70, SD = 1.17) than those who answered no (M = 3.49, SD = 1.37). There were no significant relationships found between bias reporting and age, race, or gender. However, a chi-square test found a significant difference in bias reporting by supervisory status (χ2(1, n = 115) = 4.18, p = .041, continuity corrected). A larger percentage of participants who were not in a supervisory role (58.7%) answered yes to anti-Black bias, compared to 41.3% of supervisors. Anti-racist trainings, anti-racist policies and procedures, and increased staff diversity were the three most common recommendations given to reduce anti-Black bias in professionalism. Overall, the findings suggest that anti-Black bias is widespread in social work professional culture, and that concerted reform efforts will be necessary to dismantle it.




139 pages. M.S.W., Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Ma., 2016. Includes bibliographical references (pages 101-113)

Included in

Social Work Commons