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Feminist supervision : oxymoron or redefinition of power Spilker, Anna Maria P.


Many feminists working for feminist agencies that are hierarchically structured struggle with the issue of how to create an equitable workplace where power differentials between workers are minimised. Feminism in its very essence is about a redistribution of power. In their relationships with their supervisors, however, these workers often find themselves in a subordinate role. Much has been written about how feminist principles can be applied to the supervision process. No studies have been done, however, on how a hierarchical structure affects the supervisory relationship. This qualitative research looks at women's experience of such relationships within a hierarchical context. For this purpose I interviewed six women who identified themselves as feminists and who were employed by hierarchically structured agencies that saw themselves as subscribing to a feminist ideology. I also include my own experience in this area, since it is pertinent to the study and is one of the reasons I became interested in this issue. My findings suggest that these workers' experiences varied greatly. What stood out most strongly was their desire for meaningful and effective relationships. Three main themes were developed from these interviews, each of which divided into a number of sub-themes. The main themes this study uncovered were (1) The varied ways these women experienced their supervisory relationships; (2) How they experienced the role of the supervisory relationship within the context of a hierarchical structure; and (3) What their experience revealed about what is needed to make such relationships function in more meaningful and constructive ways. This study attempts to begin a conversation about how supervisory relationships affect us as workers. I feel that this information is important to the field of Social Work, for how we are supervised impacts our effectiveness with our clients. Listening to the ones that have less power, I believe, makes a good beginning place.

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