There are many reasons why a more gender-balanced early years and childcare workforce should be worked towards, but progress towards greater gender balance in the early years and childcare workforce seems stagnant compared to other professions and industries. Instead, the focus seems to remain upon women striving to match their male counterparts in industries such as Business and Mechanical Engineering. Year upon year the National Apprenticeship Service’s own marketing advertisements fail to touch on the Early Years sector for either gender in fact.
There are numerous factors involved in men’s low participation in the early years and childcare workforce. Some examples are as follows:
So how can we achieve a more gender-balanced early years and childcare workforce?
With men making up just 3% of early years staff in England in 2019, the government announced a £30,000 grant to support a scheme run by the Fatherhood Institute which aimed to challenge the stereotypes that exist around men’s roles in early education, using relatable case-studies from men who have left other careers – including an ex-lorry driver and a young art student.
The Fatherhood Institute aimed to develop practical resources like mythbusters, ‘how-to’ guides and online content to support male recruitment into the profession, as well as online peer support for men already working in the sector. A year on in April 2020 we had not seen much of a statistical male rise in the sector. At the same time England was put into lock down due to the Covid-19 virus. This saw a significant rise in male childcare within the home and with us just starting to come out of lockdown MITEY (Men in the Early Years) have made their position clear by saying:
“It takes a global pandemic for us to acknowledge the blindingly obvious about early years education…….Our message to men is this: you CAN be the caregivers and educators, and the early years sector needs you. It may not pay the highest salaries, but if there’s one thing this crisis is teaching us, it’s that there’s more to life than money.
Maybe now’s the time for YOU to change career, stand up for diversity and gender equality, and take responsibility for looking after and educating the next generation! By doing so, you may even help transform the early years sector in the eyes of those who make the big decisions, since men entering a field has the tendency to push salaries up.”
There are lots of ways early years employers could be proactively supporting the recruitment of men, for example by offering volunteering opportunities or work placements for men considering working in the sector. Employers should also be positive about the value of male workers to parents and other workers. Routine recruitment materials should use positive images of men as well as women, and include messages designed specifically to appeal to men as a target group.
We spoke to a one of our Early Years employers and an Apprentice to get their view on the disparity of males to females in the sector.
Our nursery considers applicants based on their ability to do the job and we welcome both sexes. The disparity that is currently evident is due to the fact far fewer males choose to work in day nurseries.
I would prefer a better balance between male and female but this would still be dependent on the individuals ability to do the job.
Children need male and female role models, particularly children who are growing up without a father figure. Males can also encourage different approaches to learning and play and provide a positive balance for children.
When I first originally got into the childcare sector I was doing volunteer work at my mums school and the nursery attached said I was really good with the kids and did I want to go in for an interview.
In the first job I was offered an interview without applying. It felt like a normal interview not any different because I was male and it felt quite comfortable. The only difference with the first interview and the interview for my current post was the trial. At my first job they knew me and had seen me with the children so didn’t need to see me again.
Do you feel you were treated differently by the parents/your colleagues compared to your female counterparts?
Yes definitely. Parents treated me differently. It is the social norm for female practitioners. When introduced to the parents at both settings it was like ‘oh’ because it was something different and new. After the initial first couple of weeks things settled down and you became ‘one of the girls’. Once people warmed up to the idea of me being there they felt I was a good influence to the setting and it was a different perspective to things. Colleagues were welcoming and really helpful in both settings.
Completing my apprenticeship gave me more confidence in myself with the job role. More confidence with trying new things with the children and having that understanding of what the children need.
I’m still working at the nursery and would like in a few years to open my own setting.