ERIC Identifier: ED372345
Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Paisley, Pamela O.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Gender Issues in Supervision. ERIC Digest.
Gender as a concept encompasses "culturally-determined cognitions, attitudes,
and belief systems about females and males ; [it] varies across cultures,
changes through historical time, and differs in terms of who makes the
observations and judgments" (Worell & Remer, 1992, p.9). Using this
definition, discussion of the effects of gender on supervision must be built
upon an examination of the present status regarding gender within this culture.
A SOCIETAL FRAMEWORK
Currently, there appear to be three
basic perspectives concerning gender differences. These perspectives are focused
in areas of unequal distribution of power, socialization, and inherent
differences. Combining information from these bodies of literature, we can
construct an explanation of what it means to be male or female in our society.
First, men as a group within American society have more economic, political,
social, and physical power than most women. Males and females also, however, are
socialized to become different beings as well. Messages received from family,
school, and media continue to be heavily laden with sex-role messages
representing very different sets of acceptable behaviors for boys and girls.
These social rules and expectations create remarkably disparate psychological
environments for development based on gender. Finally, in terms of inherent
differences, those characteristics stereotypically identified with women
historically have been dismissed as of little value. Even within psychology, the
model of the healthy adult has traditionally been described through masculine
characteristics. Only in rather recent history have we begun, at any level, to
hear and value "the other voice" (Gilligan, 1982).
This societal framework indicates the existence of a power differential and
suggests the potential for bias in expectations and/or actions. With gender as
such a significant social variable, it is unlikely that the effects also would
not be apparent in counseling and supervision. These parallel processes must
continually be examined within the larger context of society.
Two remaining factors are worth mentioning. Minimizing the importance of the
differences between the genders discounts the importance of meaningful
within-group experience while exaggerating this importance reduces the potential
for individual difference. Additionally, it is important to remember that while
much that we have come to understand about gender differences has been motivated
by the women's movement, the potential for bias and discrimination affects both
men and women.
As supervision involves the oversight of
counseling, several gender issues related to therapy are worth restatement.
Using the societal context as a framework, Bernard and Goodyear (1992) suggested
three areas be considered and evaluated for gender impact and/or bias: (1) the
issues which the client brings to counseling, (2) the perspective of the
counselor, and (3) the choice of interventions. Complaints by female clients
concerning therapy have tended to focus on counselor encouragement of
traditional sex roles, bias in expectations, devaluation of female
characteristics, use of sexist theoretical concepts, and continuation of the
view of women as sex objects (APA, 1975). Counseling supervisors have a
responsibility to help the supervisee evaluate gender as a factor of concern in
case conceptualization, self-evaluation of assumptions and biases, and in
selection of approaches.
The supervisory relationship, itself, is
taking place within the same societal context as other gender issues. Bernard
and Goodyear (1992) noted gender interactions in supervision related to response
to initiation of structure, style used in handling conflict, personalization of
supervisee feedback, satisfaction with supervision, comfort with closure and
initiation, and sources of power used by supervisors. An additional significant
research study found gender-related differences associated with the amount of
reinforcement given to trainees' powerful, more assertive messages (Nelson & Holloway, 1990).
While, as in the counseling profession generally, much more research is
needed to understand the effects of gender on supervision, these sample findings
clearly indicate the potential importance of this variable on the supervisory
relationship and process. Supervisors, in addition to assisting trainees with
the associated counseling issues, must be aware--in fact, vigilant--in
identifying any ways in which bias in expectations or actions might be occurring
Implicit in both counseling and supervision
are two areas of legal and ethical concern related to the overarching issue of
sexuality. These are sexual harassment and sexual involvement. These issues are
gender-related, though they may manifest themselves in same or cross gender
Sexual harassment refers to unwanted sexual advances and/or contacts while
sexual involvement between supervisors and supervisees may seemingly occur by
mutual consent (Bartell & Rubin, 1990). Although subtle forms are more
difficult to recognize and eliminate, most personally and professionally aware
supervisors avoid the most blatant types of behaviors associated with sexual
harassment. Through efforts at many institutions and agencies, individuals are
being educated concerning the defining characteristics of harassment and the
legal and ethical implications. Unfortunately, incidents of sexual involvement
continue and in some cases seem to be increasing. While the degree of coercion
or consent may seem to separate these two issues, they have two factors in
common. Both sets of behaviors are clearly unethical and both work to the
detriment of supervision. Mutuality does not excuse abuse of power, and there is
an inherent power differential in supervision--a factor which always provides a
degree of question concerning true consent (Bartell & Rubin, 1990). Even the
most egalitarian of supervisors must acknowledge a greater responsibility and
accountability in this area. Additionally, as a word of self-protective warning
to supervisors beyond the need to behave ethically, research indicates that
supervisees' perceptions of the amount of coercion tend to increase with the
passage of time (Glaser & Thorpe, 1986).
An additional disturbing finding in this area of sexual contact (beyond
damage done to individual supervisees and supervisory relationships) is that the
behaviors perpetuate themselves. Students or trainees who become involved with
supervisors are more likely to accept this as a norm and repeat the pattern
themselves (Pope, Levenson, & Schover, 1979). The power of modeling in all
areas related to gender should never be minimized. Even when contact is
initiated by a supervisee, the moment can be a teachable one where ethical
standards can be explained not as efforts to monitor thoughts and feelings but
to regulate behaviors in order to protect certain types of significant
The supervisory relationship is an incredibly
important one in the personal and professional development of counselors. In
relation to gender, it is crucial that supervisors use the relationship as an
opportunity to educate, confront, and model. This requires a special level of
awareness of self and society. Challenging our own biases, prejudices, and
issues is one of the most critical parts of the process. Because gender is one
of our most powerful and descriptive characteristics, it tends to be one of the
most sensitive areas of personal exploration. The sensitive nature of the topic
as well as the potential for crossing lines associated with sexual
discrimination, harassment, and involvement make it imperative that supervision
take place within the clearest ethical parameters. Such parameters provide a
safe and established environment for growth and development while modeling
appropriate professional behavior for the next generation.
Within the larger social context, supervisors and counselors are also in a
position to work effectively as advocates to address injustices implied in the
previously mentioned perspectives on gender differences. Professionals can,
perhaps, have the greatest effect in this area by promoting equity in
institutions and systems, gender-fair practices in socialization processes, and
a genuine appreciation for and celebration of both masculine and feminine
American Psychological Association. (1975).
Report of the task force on sex bias and sex role stereotyping in
psychotherapeutic practice. American Psychologist, 30, 1169-1175.
Bartell, P.A. & Rubin, L.J. (1990). Dangerous liaisons: Sexual intimacies
in supervision. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 21, 442-450.
Bernard, J.M. & Goodyear, R.K. (1992). Fundamentals of clinical
supervision. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Glaser, R.D. & Thorpe, J.S. (1986). Unethical intimacy: A survey of
sexual contact and advances between psychology educators and female graduate
students. American Psychologist, 41, 43-51.
Nelson, M.L. & Holloway, E.L. (1990). Relation of gender to power and
involvement in supervision. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 37, 473-481.
Pope, K.S., Levenson, H., & Schover, L.R. (1979). Sexual intimacy in
psychology training: Results and implications of a national survey. American
Psychologist, 34, 682-689.
Worell, J. & Remer, P. (1992). Feminist perspectives in therapy: An
empowerment model for women. New York: Wiley & Sons.