Do you want more men working in early years education? Maybe you run a nursery and only ever get women applying for the jobs you advertise. Perhaps you’re a male practitioner feeling isolated and demotivated.
Well now’s the time to join the MITEY campaign and connect with like-minded individuals and organisations doing their best to make Britain’s early years education workforce more gender-diverse.
Right now, just 3% of Britain’s early years staff are men. That figure that has barely changed for the last 20 years, despite huge increases in men’s involvement as hands-on fathers, and better progress towards gender equality in other traditionally female work sectors, like primary school teaching (15% male) and nursing (11%).
If your early years setting has even just one male member of staff, pat yourself on the back: you’re doing well. The vast majority of early years settings are like ‘man deserts’: only a quarter (23%) have any male staff at all.
It’s not just the UK where this problem exists – we’re part of a global trend – but other countries are doing better; most notably Norway, whose workforce is 10% male.
If the problem was easy to solve, we’d have solved it by now. But it’s not, and we’re not so naive as to think that our campaign will solve it overnight.
The much-needed £30,000 of funding we are receiving from the Department for Education in 2019-20 allows us to produce some resources to help men and boys consider careers in the sector; to help employers find ways of recruiting and retaining more male staff; and to help careers advisers nudge boys and men into considering such work. We’ll also hold a national MITEY conference in early September.
We want to become a community where you can share your challenges and successes, innovate and develop innovative solutions. Nobody is expecting hordes of male jobseekers to suddenly appear outside Britain’s nurseries – but we hope to learn together how best to open ourselves up to men as well as women.
But before you do all that, let’s pause for a moment to consider why we should even be bothering to improve on the 3% male figure.
At a time when the early years sector is being called upon to expand, and when many employers report recruitment problems, it ought to make good business sense for you to reach out to the whole talent pool, not just half of it.
We know that there’s plenty of male caregiving talent out there. Although women still do the lion’s share of caring for children, men’s contribution has been increasing for decades. Not all these hands-on dads may want to turn their domestic caregiving experience into a career, but some might – and so might other men, who may have plenty of relevant skills but may never have thought of early years education as a career, because no-one ever mentioned it to them.
It’s so important that we engage men in the early years, because children can benefit so much from interacting with both men and women in caregiving roles. If we present boys and girls with a single-gender early years workforce, the clear message we are giving is that looking after children is ‘women’s work’. They need to see that caregiving and education are a male domain too.
Then there’s the question of representation: our early years settings should be striving to reflect the diversity of the communities we serve – and that means in terms of gender as well as ethnic and cultural background.
There is a caveat to all this, though. By listening to the voices of men already working in the early years sector, for example through the GenderEYE project, we know how vital it is for men not to be pigeonholed into bringing a particular brand of ‘masculinity’ into settings – pushing them towards outdoors play and ‘rough and tumble’, and away from more intimate caregiving.
We firmly believe that it is in challenging gender stereotypes, as well as in boosting male stuff numbers, that our campaign will bring about real, sustainable change for the future. Our 10 MITEY Myths discussion document covers this: we hope you’ll find it a useful, thought-provoking tool that can help shape your ideas and discussions going forward.
Author: Dr Jeremy Davies leads the MITEY (Men In The Early Years) campaign, is co-investigator on the ESRC-funded Gender Diversification in Early Years Education) study, and is head of communications at the Fatherhood Institute. Find out more about him and the MITEY steering group here.