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Globally, less than 3 per cent of the childcare workforce are men.

Children under the age of five are being denied positive gender role models in many nursery settings as the people who are educating and caring for young children do not reflect the society those children are living in and being brought up in.

At the start of the 19th century, the first infant school teachers were radical young men who aimed to change society’, and it was the pioneering efforts of Robert Owen who set up an infant school in 1817 for the children of his factory workers. The gender egalitarian teaching workforce of this time, early 19th century, was then brushed aside by the influential Victorian Infant School Movement which used essentialist discourses of men’s and women’s ‘natural’ aptitudes to reproduce an idealised model of the heterosexual family within the world of the infant school.

By the late 1830s, male participation was no longer in evidence, and nearly 200 years later, we are now in a state of paralysis with this deeply entrenched and infrequently challenged pattern of a gender-segregated occupation.

It seems extraordinary in an age where there has been such a remarkable increase in gender awareness to find this pocket of practice that appears to be so strongly gendered and so resistant to change. So, why then is the early years workforce not changing?

For many reasons, childcare is not a career pathway that young men consider because of the negative stereotypes associated with it and due to the lack of information from schools, careers advisors and recruiters. We need to see this change by proactively promoting more flexible attitudes towards gender roles and cutting the stigma attached to it.

The advice needs to ‘normalise’ male participation in the childcare industry – offering men clear information about what the work involves, the kinds of qualities and skills required, and the varied pathways that exist for men who want to consider a career in early years, including entry at higher education level.

Incorporating as much diversity into a setting not only supports learning outcomes but ensures children see both positive male and female early years teachers from an early age.

So, what are the added benefits of attracting men to work at an early childhood setting?

  • Male and female brains process information differently; having a better gender balance will provide different perspectives in dealing with situations with the children (Rolfe, 2006).
  • Women and men often have different caring styles and behaviours, this will offer different styles of caring, playing and instructing to the children (Rolfe, 2006).
  • In the situation of single parent families, fathers may relate to male educators allowing a more open connection.
  • Having a male educators can challenge the stereotype in relation to toys and activities (Rolfe, 2006).

While a popular topic over the years, studies show that less than 15 per cent of early years organisations even pursue specific strategies aimed at recruiting men. For those wanting to disrupt the status quo, here are some strategies one can take to support the recruitment and retention of male educators:

Look at the current situation

How are male role models currently portrayed in your learning environment? What evidence is there of fathers and male educators positively engaging in the lives of children? Is it a welcoming space for males?

Educate all staff

To support the reduction of gender stereotyping within early years teams, consider implementing gender awareness training to all your current staff. The research shows that this is offered to less than a fifth of practitioners.

Support for male educators

It is important that male educators feel supported and protected. Males can sometimes be placed in awkward positions that might put them at more risk than females, so have clear policies in place to protect children first as well as workers.

Advertise vacancies with men in mind

Consider wording and promoting recruitment adverts in a way that will engage males, to make it more appealing to them. Make it clear that men are more than welcome to apply. Also ensure you have positive male imagery in centre marketing and published material. This will support the mindset of potential applicants that they have a place within the organisation.

Involvement in the local community

Actively reach out to local schools, career fairs and colleges/institutes to speak with young men about how rewarding a career in childcare can be. Have positive stories and testimonials available from males who currently work at the service.

What appears obvious, is that without a wider co-ordinated approach with clear and robust strategies, the taken-for-granted nature of early childhood teaching will remain ‘women’s work’.