Stepping up a gear to reach more men

It’s tempting to think of the UK as a gender-equal society – or at least, well on the road towards it. But the lack of male childcarers suggests otherwise, which is what a new campaign is aiming to address.

Gender balance in the workforce is a priority for LEYF nurseries.
Gender balance in the workforce is a priority for LEYF nurseries.

There are some areas of British life where the effects of decades of legal and political reform aimed at levelling the playing field for women and men, seem to have barely been felt.
One such is early years education, where in 2019, only three per cent of the professionals who educate our youngest children are men. A greater proportion of plumbers are female!

What’s going on?
The lack of men in early years education is certainly not a new problem, but there’s a growing community within the sector that sees it as one in dire need of attention. We want our children to believe in gender equality, and be free of the limits

that inequalities and stereotypes can impose, but we show them something completely different in their crucial, formative years.

Some argue there are structural reasons why men don’t choose to work in this field, chief among them being pay, and there’s more than a grain of truth in that.

But while all of us working in and around the early years sector see that early years professionals should have higher status and better remuneration, we also know that it’s

not going to change overnight – and we cannot wait around for these changes to occur without also making efforts to improve on that three per cent male figure.

Surely the fight for higher pay is a related, important but separate battle – and should be dealt with as such? Meanwhile, we could be recognising that not all men need breadwinner salaries and that some may actually – like the women who make up most of the workforce – be willing to put up with the relatively low pay, in return for other benefits, like job satisfaction, flexible working options and so on.

And by the way, chances are
that bringing more men into the workforce can only help (albeit for all the wrong reasons!), not hinder, the fight for improved pay and status.

With all this in mind, and with some ‘seed funding’ from the Department of Education, the MITEY campaign is stepping up a gear, producing resources that will, we hope, help the early years sector make better progress on recruiting men.

Sometimes there’s an assumption that men aren’t interested in this
kind of work, but little effort is made to reach out to boys and men and convince them to take it seriously as a career option: so how do we know?

We want to help employers test different approaches – and rather than everyone trying to reinvent the wheel, we want to find out what ideas seem to work best, and share effective practice as best we can. So we’ve started by producing a MITEY

Charter, which has some really clear statements for employers committed to this agenda to sign up to, and a ‘myth-buster’ where we unpick some of the myths and stereotypes about men in the early years. We hope

the latter will get people talking and making plans based on sound evidence, rather than allowing their thinking to be limited by restrictive beliefs.

We’re already on Twitter, building a community of interest nationally and also making great connections with colleagues north of the
border, where men-into-childcare initiatives are, if anything, a bit more established and strategic (not to mention better-funded) than in England and Wales.

Next month we’ll publish some resources aimed at men, including case studies and information about training options. We’ll be aiming some of these at dads (on Father’s Day), because we think men with hands-on experience of looking after children could be a good potential ‘market’ for early years to appeal to.

On 4 September we’ll be holding a national MITEY conference, in central London, and publishing more resources for employers. Then later in the year we’ll hold support sessions for men in the sector or thinking of joining it, and some guidance for careers advisers.

There’s a limit to how much we can achieve with the limited funding pot we have, but we see this year as the start of something even bigger, and we hope you’ll find our resources useful. 

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