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4 Ways we can Shift Attitudes about Men in Childcare

Progress has been made since 2012, but there’s work to do to improve gender inclusivity…

  • 4 Ways we can Shift Attitudes about Men in Childcare

Does 19 November mean anything to you? It’s International Men’s Day, and since 2012 I’ve been championing doing something in or around that date to recognise men in childcare.

It all started with a colleague at LEYF suggesting that we do something public to better understand what would attract and sustain an increased number of men working in the sector.

He quite rightly pointed out that while it was great that we were doing a lot within LEYF, we needed wider support if we were to change the position in the sector. Last November we used our annual debate to consider any improvements to our ‘men in childcare’ strategy.

Since the initial launch of the London Network of Men in Childcare on International Men’s Day in 2012 there have been a number of initiatives in this area – from Sue Chamber’s report reviewing the state of play up to 2012, Kathy Brodie’s ‘Men in Childcare’ podcasts and the Fatherhood Institute’s programme to recruit men into childcare, to David Wright’s National Men in Early Years Conferences and the DfE’s decision to establish a gender-inclusive task and finish group (though there are many others that I don’t have space to list here).

Bearing these efforts in mind, David Wright, Jo Warin from Lancaster University (who has made gender studies her research subject and is writing a book) and Jamie Leith from Manny and Me were invited to form a panel and comment on the question of what has changed since 2012.

It was an interesting debate, and the audience brought a sense of energetic community. Jo Verrill from Ceeda announced that her latest research showed that of 3,930 staff surveyed 5% are men – an improvement from the 2% target.

However, her study found men are more likely to work in support roles such as maintenance/cleaning (5%) and catering (17%), and are less likely than women to be in senior childcare roles (13% compared to 20% of women), or in overall charge of a childcare setting (2% compared to 6% of women).

A strategy for success

The audience raised the usual issues: status of the sector and lack of support from the top. David Wright referred to research he is undertaking with parents who remain anxious about the risk of paedophilia.

That said, there was a shift in the tone. More people are talking about the benefits of gender-inclusive working environments. There is more discussion about the valuable contribution men make to children’s personal development and education.

Men and women both agreed about the career progression opportunities and the negative impact of a funding policy that limits access to CPD. There was a call to examine other sectors where men are now integrated into what was once a fairly entrenched female workforce, such as nursing.

LEYF was praised for changing its staff titles to ‘teachers’, a term that’s more gender neutral than the ‘nursery nurse’! There was a clear acceptance that as a proud female-led sector, we did not need men on white chargers to change things, rather male colleagues with whom to collaborate to improve the status and remuneration of the sector.

We ended with the question, ‘Whose job is it to shift attitudes?’ and a four-point strategy emerged: first, build, lobby and champion widespread support across the sector; second, recruit male role models as ambassadors to schools, career fairs, etc; third, form a ‘Men in Early Years’ advisory group to meet twice a year to assess and monitor progress; fourth, study the benefit of men in childcare for children as the basis of a campaign to parents.

June O’Sullivan MBE is the CEO of the London Early Years Foundation. Visit leyf.org.uk, June’s blog at juneosullivan.wordpress.com or connect on Twitter @JuneOSullivan.

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