If you are male and working in any capacity with young children, the chances are that you will have been approached to take a survey, to complete a questionnaire or to be the subject of research. Let’s face it, we are a rare breed, less than 2% of the UK early years workforce. It sometimes seems as though one of our roles is to justify and explain our roles! We are known as ‘the man in childcare’.
All the evidence suggests that we believe it is a good thing to have more gender-balanced staff teams in our settings. We – the government , the general public, schools, nurseries, preschools, child minders and parents, generally accept the argument that it is beneficial for children to experience the richness of diversity represented by the continuum of human gender characteristics across a team comprising males and females. We haven’t quantified what these benefits are but intuitively we have a sense of ‘role modelling’, sedentary versus ‘rough and tumble’ activities and a healthy and robust approach to risk taking and the development of independence skills, all of which may vary depending on the mix of genders –
It seems to me that where 98% of the workforce is made up of a single gender, there is less chance of meeting all children’s needs. Judging from polls, comments and responses, we are all convinced. So why don’t we do anything about it? I asked the new minister, Sam Gyimah, this question directly on the #eytalking thread which he was hosting on twitter last week. I asked the government to fund an initiative. He tweeted that he is highly supportive and that he is male, adding one more to the tally! (job done then?)
Is it that we still believe this is primarily a caring, nurturing profession – “women’s work” as distinct from proper teaching, with a qualified status and accompanying salary? And what’s wrong with caring and nurturing by the way? Aren’t men capable of giving care and shouldn’t we be wanting them to give this too? Is it ok to be a father, in the down time from your proper job, but not to look after other people’s children?
For me, it’s a question of rights, both children’s and men’s. Children have a right to be cared for and educated by both women and men and men have the right to work with children.
In a post-Saville world, it is even more important that we get this right. How to get the good guys in and how to keep the bad ones out. We have to avoid demonising men and questioning their motives, whilst keeping children safe. It’s not easy but we have to find a way otherwise our children will continue to miss out.
I recently attended a European Men in Childcare conference in Poland with representatives from 7 different countries. Unsurprisingly, the issues and the statistics are similar internationally. In the UK there are pockets of support and activity with active groups in London, York, Southampton, Edinburgh and Northern Ireland, networking and campaigning on a shoestring with goodwill and volunteer resource. It is a struggle to find the time.
So how are we going to see any change? How do we get this higher up the agenda? Should we call it a diversity issue? A minority group issue? Or does it come under equality? Call it what you will, everyone thinks it’s a good idea but nothing changes.
So, in the run up to the next election, here are my vision, manifesto and campaign action points, free to any interested politician. –
• Boys and Girls need Men and Women – from 0 – 19 years.
• Create a culture where it’s normal here for children to be cared for by men and women.
• Pay and status are not gender issues; it is a question of how society values the early years workforce.
• Safeguarding is not a gender issue.
• We need to challenge culture, attitudes and stereotypes.
• Promote early years as a viable career path for men. Start young.
• Support men where they are training / working now – it can be lonely and worrying: you are being watched and discussed!
• Attract and retain good male workers but only the best person for the job.
• Individual stories are powerful, promote the benefits for men.
• We need a coordinated national approach.