Inclusion and wellbeing

What you can do to help get more men in the early years

It matters that we’re doing it for the right reasons.
Men working in the Early Years
May 19, 2021
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In a rush? Here’s the quick run-down.

  • We’re going to take a look at the issue of men in Early Education. More specifically, we’ll talk about why there aren’t very many men, and what we can do to get more working in Early Years.
  • As Dr. Jeremy Davies explains, it’s not a question of what only male practitoners “bring to the table” — it’s about diversity as a whole. Early education is for everybody, and every child should see themselves and their identity reflected in their caregivers.
  • Down at the bottom, you’ll find resources on how you can help more men to find their place in early education.
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Within the Early Years sector, it’s not exactly raining men. It’s hardly even sprinkling, really.

This isn’t exactly breaking news, though — and that’s part of the problem.

These days, boosting gender equality in early education has more support from parents and practitioners than ever before. And with each generation, more and more men can see themselves working as educators and Early Years practitioners. 

Despite this, the share of men working in the Early Years hasn’t moved all that much in the past two decades.

So maybe it’s time we try something new?

In this article, we’re going to talk about where this problem comes from, and where we go from here. And to help shape that perspective, we’ll talk to Dr. Jeremy Davies. He’s the Head of Communications at the UK-based Fatherhood Institute, and leader of the Men in the Early Years network.

As he’ll explain down below, it might be time that we rethink why we’re pushing for more men in the sector. Spoiler alert: It’s a lot bigger than whether or not men are better at messy play.

Let’s see how we can get more men in the mix.

A male educator holds a baby, looking closely at his face.

The big ideas

The whole world is lacking men in early education

Just to catch everybody up to speed, the Early Years has a serious shortage of dudes.

As of 2019, men made up just 3 percent of early years staff in England. Up in Scotland, it’s 4 percent. In Ireland, it’s less than one percent. Across the UK, more than three-quarters of surveyed Early Years settings say they don't have any male staff at all.

But this isn’t just a UK problem. The percentage of men working in early education is low around the globe, if we look at countries like Australia (1.6%), the United States (6.3%) or Austria (0.8%). Norway is one of the global leaders, with men making up about 10 percent of their early educators.

While we’ve seen some progress here and there, we haven’t seen great leaps and bounds in the last decade (or, in fact, the past two decades). But the cause is just as important as ever — so let’s look at what we can do about it.

Men in the Early Years is bigger than ‘practical benefits’

To start tackling this problem, it’s important to make sure we’re doing it for the right reasons.

You might have heard arguments pushing for more men in the Early Years, because they bring practical benefits: They’re positive male role models for children who don’t have fathers at home, or they’re great for rough-and-tumble play.

But as Jeremy Davies points out, these arguments suggest that men are just better at certain things — as if there’s some special secret to playing in the mud that only a man could know. If we’re pushing for gender equality in the Early Years workforce, fixating on these ‘practical benefits’ of men probably isn’t too helpful in the long run.

“These arguments put unreasonable demands on male practitioners because they assume that all men fit into some idealised model of masculinity. But if that’s our focus, where does it leave the female practitioners?” Jeremy asks. “That risks bringing us back to square one in some way, where children see their male and female practitioners doing these stereotypical gendered activities.”

We would never debate the ‘practical benefits’ to hiring a disabled practitioner, a Black practitioner, or anyone else. In those cases, we just understand that diversity is, in itself, a worthwhile cause. It’s about making sure every child grows up in an environment that reflects their own background, culture and identity. That’s just too important to condense into a concrete benefit or a statistic. 

So why treat the gender equality effort as a separate thing?

“When you encounter an Early Years group that’s good at gender in the workforce, you can bet they’re good at gender, full stop — and good at all forms of diversity and inclusion,” Jeremy says. 

A male nursery practitioner is running, holding hands with a little girl, he has his arm outstretched, as does she. Reflecting men in childcare.

Where’d this problem come from, anyway?

This article just isn’t long enough to do justice to such a big question.

Most every practitioner, politician and parent understands the importance of teaching (and demonstrating) gender equality in early childhood. But when it comes to actually doing that, some people tend to drop off. 

We can point to a laundry list of reasons. Though maybe it’s more like a web, because a lot of these causes feed into one another, and reinforce the problem. 

While this is far from an exhaustive list, let’s touch on some of the biggest reasons why we’re missing men in the Early Years:

  • We’re still dealing with the sexist idea that caring for children is women’s work. Unfortunately, this outdated notion still lives on in the corners of many people’s brains. And it shapes everything from politicians’ prioritisation of the sector, to parents’ feelings about male practitioners, to young mens’ ideas of which careers are for them.
  • The issue doesn’t get enough funding or attention from the government. “If you’re a government minister, the first thing you’re bothered about is whether there are enough nurseries, how many children go through them, are the staff qualified, and so on,” Jeremy says. “And yes, if you’ve thought about it, you might want to get some more men in there. But it just has never been that big a priority.”
  • Some parents aren’t comfortable with men working in childcare. In one 2018 study, 79% of surveyed parents wanted to challenge the gender stereotypes confronting their young children. But in Jeremy’s experience, nearly every male educator he’s spoken with has experienced parents objecting to their presence. He says this points to a bigger need for practitioners and parents discussing this issue together.

But regardless of the cause, Jeremy says one thing’s for certain: Change needs to come from within the sector.

“Most everybody gets that gender equality is a good thing, but there’s a difference between understanding that, and actively engaging in changing things,” he says.

The good news is, making a difference is probably easier than you think.

A male educator holds hands with a little boy, while they are out for a walk. The boy is holding a teddy bear under his arm.

Getting more men in the Early Years starts today

With an issue like this, change won’t come overnight. But there are some simple things you can do today, tomorrow or next week to get the ball rolling. 

To get started, look no further than Jeremy’s own guide to improve recruitment of men into early years education. You’ll find a couple of highlights down below, and you can download the whole guide right here, as presented by MITEY and the Fatherhood Institute.

  • Be mindful of the language you use in your hiring advertisements. ‘Early years practitioner ' or ‘early educator’ are great choices for job titles, as they’re professional and gender-neutral. Avoid terms like 'nursery nurse' as, although many men are nurses, it could be excluding men from applying. When you’re describing your ideal candidate, keep in mind that some of our go-to adjectives might be considered ‘feminine,’ which could put off a potential male applicant.
  • Make men more visible on your marketing materials. When you’re drawing up promotional flyers or building your website, it’s worth thinking about how those reflect gender diversity. Male apprentices and educators will be more drawn to you if they can already ‘see themselves’ on your team. If you don’t have men on your team, you could find pictures of male educators via Creative Commons or stock image websites.
  • If you already have men on your team, talk about what drew them to early education. This is a simple, effective way to get insights about what might help male educators see a place for themselves on your team, and what challenges or concerns they might need a bit of help with. Ask them what would have a positive impact on encouraging men to apply and how to support other men into the setting.
  • Reach out to parents to address any apprehensions. Some parents might still get hung up on misperceptions about male educators, which could make your male team members feel unwelcome in the profession. It helps to have a conversation to address and debunk those concerns — or, to welcome your whole community for a larger talk about the issue.
  • Take some extra time to support and listen to your male educators. While we’re talking about gender stereotypes, some men might have learned to bottle up their frustrations or worries — so it’s worth asking them directly how you can help them feel most welcome and supported on your team. Really this goes for both male and female staff. Within the UK, you can also connect with local support groups through MITEY.
download pdf
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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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