Unfortunately, there are indications that a common model of organizing, often labeled power-based organizing [both labor and community] has often been unwelcoming to women. This is borne out in the literature on labor and community organizing, which has regularly presented critiques of gender dynamics present in professional power-based organizing (Craddock, 2019; Hyde, 1986; Kennelly, 2014; Rooks, 2003, Krings et al., 2019; Stall & Stoeker, 1998).
This interpretive phenomenological study aims to examine the professional experiences of contemporary women in power-based community organizing in Chicago. This constitutes a deep dive into a sample of ten individual women’s stories to take an in-depth interpretive look at their experience of professional community organizing.
Respondents reported continued struggles with overwork, which had a significant deleterious effect on those providing care for dependents at home. The pace of the organizing work, the long hours, the sense of urgency, the focus on measurable outcomes, and lack of time for rest and reflection was described as harmful to most respondents but meant something more for those providing unpaid care work at home. Seven of the ten participants had children and one was caring for ailing older parents. Each caregiver respondent reported struggles in the arena of balancing unpaid care obligations with the workaholic environment present at their organizing job.
This study uses feminist critical theory to contextualize these gender-based struggles around balancing career and care, and how and why these same battles on gender continue to recur over time. Two concepts from feminist critical theory, retraditionalization (coined by Lisa Atkins); and responsibilization (drawn mostly from Wendy Brown) are used to understand why gender subordination and gendered divisions of labor persist in the experiences of these respondents.
Implications for social work practice are significant. Because most social workers continue to be women (Salsberg et al., 2017), the gender based exclusion experienced by women in this study may be illustrating a barrier to participation for social workers. While many rightly argue that the field of social work ought to include community organizing, gender-based exclusion in that field does not bode well for the participation of social workers.