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 it’s fair to say that many (but by no means all) people would claim to agree that we need more men to work in Early Years.
But while lots of us might like the idea of a gender-diverse early years education and childcare workforce, an awful lot needs to change if we are ever to achieve it.
Latest figures show that in England & Wales only 3% of staff working in early years education are male; 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, of course; there are other ‘caring’ workforces where men are under-represented. But it’s 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.
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.
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.
Photo: “635” by rzacakes is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0