We believe that the job of educating and caring for our children is not ‘women’s work’: it is everybody’s.

Early childhood education and care (more commonly termed ‘Early Years’ in the UK) has one of the most gender-imbalanced workforces in the world. It is also, in our view, a critical context in which to address gender inequality and stereotypes, for the benefit of children and wider society.

The MITEY network and campaign focuses (for now, at least) on the UK, where attitudes to gender are relatively progressive and surveys suggest there is broad support for the idea that we need more men to work in Early Years.

But while the idea of a gender-diverse early years education and childcare workforce might be appealing, an awful lot needs to change if we are ever to achieve it.

Latest official figures (from 2019) show that in England only 3% of staff working in early years education are male (the DFE expects to publish an update in November 2021; its 2020 survey was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic); in Scotland it’s 4%.

We know this is a global problem, and we know that countries that invest in more coordinated gender equality policies are doing better: the proportion of male early years educators is more like 10% in Norway, for example. The UK figures have barely improved over the last 20 years, so something is going badly wrong.

The lack of diversity is not unique to early years education; there are other ‘caring’ workforces where men are under-represented. But it is extreme – men make up 15% of the primary school workforce, 14% of social workers and 11% of nurses, for example. In the graph below, the blue bars represent the percentage of workers who are male, and the pink, female.

Male proportion of 'caring' workforces

And the lack of gender diversity in early years education is particularly worrying if you believe – as we do – that we should be showing children from the earliest point possible, that men and women are equally capable of, and responsible for, looking after and teaching them.

One of the key goals of the Fatherhood Institute, which runs MITEY,  is to “prepare boys and girls for a future shared role in caring for children”. We know that children’s career aspirations are restricted by gender stereotypes at a very young age. By the time they are 7, girls are nine times more likely than boys to say they’d like to be a teacher. We don’t have to look far to understand why.

Girl and boy jpeg

That’s why MITEY’s vision is of a mixed-gender early years workforce where well-rewarded, highly trained practitioners provide, in gender-flexible ways, the best quality, gender-sensitive education and care to the children in their setting.

MITEY is not just about smashing gender stereotypes though. From an economic point of view, the UK needs parents to have access to affordable early years education, provided by sufficient numbers of qualified staff.

This is not easy to achieve in a sector plagued by low pay and status, and high staff turnover rates. And it’s a particular headache if only half the population (women) apply for this kind of work. So there are pragmatic reasons to widen the early years net to include men, too.

We could go on…but in the interests of brevity, we hope this brief introduction has given you a rough idea of where we’re coming from, and will pique your interest to join the network.

Do please have a look around this website and our Twitter page – and if you want to know more, or have a chat, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

References for chart Hospital doctors: NHS Digital (2018) Narrowing of NHS gender divide but men still the majority in senior roles. NHS Digital, 8 March 2018. GPs: Bostock, N (2018) The rise of women in general practice, GP Online, 8 March 2018. Teaching: Sellgren, K. (2016) Classrooms need more male teachers, charity says. BBC News online, 5 October 2016. Social work: Department for Education Experimental statistics: Children and family social work workforce in England, year ending 30 September 2017. SFR 09/2018, 15 February 2018. Nursing: Nursing and Midwifery Council Register Data Report March 2019. Early years: DFE Survey of Childcare and Early Years Providers 2018 See footnote on p29.

Photo: “635” by rzacakes is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0