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Diversity in Social Work

May 19, 2021
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As its importance is being discussed more in every industry, knowing the role of diversity in social work is critical.

In a treatment context, diversity is about understanding how larger societal issues and the deeper historical context can directly influence their clients’ lives. That’s one of many reasons why the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics asks its members to continue working to understand and improve their ability to meet the needs of people from different cultures and backgrounds.

To be a successful social worker, you must recognize the importance of someone’s background. This critical lens impacts how a client sees and reacts to the world. Race, religious identity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, and English proficiency are just some of these defining influences. Social workers need to understand that these identities are complex and that they often intersect with one another.

At Yeshiva University, we know that preparing social workers to meet the needs of clients from different backgrounds is essential to building stronger communities. Below are just three of the critical components that we focus on in our online Master of Social Work program.

Cultural Competency

Cultural competency requires self awareness and humility. A social worker needs to understand how their own identity and privilege influence the way they go about their lives and interact with others. This is key to being open to how their clients view the world around them. The impact of cultural competence, or the lack of cultural competence, can be enormous when it comes to individual, institutional and societal issues.

It’s important to note that striving to be a culturally competent social worker is not a goal with an end date. An experienced social worker will continue to face ideas or beliefs unfamiliar to them, so this is growth that needs to be ongoing after finishing MSW coursework.


According to the NASW, the knowledge that social workers must possess needs to be inclusive of “the history, traditions, values, family systems, and artistic expressions such as race and ethnicity; immigration and refugee status; tribal groups; religion and spirituality; sexual orientation; gender identity or expression; social class; and mental or physical abilities of various cultural groups.”

While this knowledge is obviously critical for advocacy and policy decisions, this knowledge influences how a social worker practices and conducts research. It’s also critical for the client themselves, because their social worker needs to recommend services and resources that are appropriate and meet their needs. This also means that social workers must continue to educate themselves to remain a knowledgeable and effective practitioner.


As advocates, it’s important for social workers to promote policy and legislation that will meet the needs of their clients. Their goal should be to empower people.

Both knowledge and cultural competency are critical for becoming an advocate. A social worker must understand that what they value and what they want to achieve might not align with what the community wants. Without asking questions and communicating with others, a social worker can misunderstand how larger societal issues or policies impact their clients’ lives.

On a larger level, a social worker needs to work toward creating a more equitable world, which is why understanding diversity and developing competency and knowledge is so critical. Often those with good intentions don’t realize they can create more problems or that they can miss the issues that actually need to be addressed.

Understanding Social Work and Diversity

Each client is different, with a different lived experience and different perspective on the world. Clients need to feel like their needs are being met, and for a social worker that is a critical challenge to meet.

Every individual social worker is responsible to continue learning and growing, because that is the only way to become and stay an impactful social worker. They need to understand why someone could be reluctant to seek a professional’s help or why someone struggles with a problem unfamiliar to them.

It is essential that social work embraces change as well. Change in how they treat clients and change within the field itself. Social workers have an imperative to grow a workforce that better represents their community and the country. This can be by encouraging others from different backgrounds to join the field and by recruiting and hiring new social workers to their practice.

Become an impactful social worker with Yeshiva.

To promote diversity in social work, you need the training and insight to be effective in your role and career. With the online Master of Social Work at Yeshiva University, you’ll develop the skills and expertise to better support your clients and your community.

Through our virtual neighborhood, “The Heights,” students will be able to put their knowledge into practice in real-world environments.This interactive tool gives you the opportunity to practice in various settings and communities to better understand how race, income, age, education and more can influence a social worker’s role and response.

Learn more about the online experience at Yeshiva and how our online program prepares you for a career in a number of different environments and communities.