Last reviewed 3 January 2020

With one of the lowest levels of male participation of any workforce in the UK, the early years sector faces many challenges in addressing the gender imbalance in childcare provisions. Elizabeth Walker looks at the barriers to male recruitment and the latest guidance for early years providers on encouraging more men into childcare.

Men in childcare

The latest research shows that just 3% of early years workers in England and Wales are men, rising only slightly to 4% in Scotland and this has hardly changed in the last 20 years according to Men in the Early Years (MITEY). Whereas better progress towards gender equality has been made in other traditionally female work sectors and in comparison 11% of men are nurses, 14% are social workers, 15% are primary teachers, 38% are secondary teachers, 46% are GPs and 55% are hospital doctors.

Earlier this year, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) identified the lack of gender diversity as a key factor in the shortage of early years education staff across the developed world. Its report recommended that countries should engage in stronger efforts to bring men into early education and childcare by improving the status of jobs in the sector and engaging in information and recruitment campaigns.

Benefits of men in the early years

Employing more men into childcare will help to address the current early years recruitment crisis in the UK as employers can double their talent pool and have a wider availability of the best staff. A more gender-balanced workforce will also provide children with the widest range of experiences, skills and teaching styles that will benefit their learning and development. Other benefits include:

  • a more representative workforce which reflects the communities children live in

  • challenging gender stereotypes in the workforce and demonstrating that men can be professional caregivers and educators

  • a possible rise in status for the sector resulting from higher male participation

  • wider career choices for boys and men

  • families placing greater value on male involvement in their children’s early years.

Barriers to recruitment

There are currently many barriers to men’s low participation in the early years and childcare workforce including:

  • men’s concerns about the attitudes of parents, colleagues and peers towards men working in early years, and about working in a predominantly female environment

  • gender stereotyping of childcare careers and lack of information and advice for men about the benefits and challenges of working in the sector

  • pigeonholing male practitioners to do more physical play or to act as male role models rather than valuing their overall skills and knowledge

  • lack of vocational training courses specifically marketed to men and designed to support them

  • a failure to proactively recruit men, and ensure that workplaces are welcoming of male staff

  • low pay and status as a profession.

This wide range of barriers need to be addressed across the sector in order to improve the gender-balance of the workforce and this will need government support as well commitment from early years provisions.

Targeted recruitment campaigns

Recently some initiatives to support targeted recruitment of men into childcare have launched in the UK. The Men in Early Years Challenge Fund in Scotland is designed to increase the number of men working in early learning and childcare (ELC), and the Department for Education (DfE) has provided the Fatherhood Institute with funding to support male recruitment into the profession.

In addition, the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) has set out a four-point plan to address shortages of male workers in the early years and has called for the following action points.

  • Continue to garner widespread support (and acceptance) for men working in childcare across the early years sector among peers and parents.

  • Recruit early years male role models as ambassadors to schools, colleges and career fairs, etc.

  • Develop a national Men in Early Years Advisory Group to meet twice a year to assess and monitor progress.

  • Create a professional development programme to recognise and support personal contribution from employees, regardless of gender.

New guidance

MITEY has recently published a new Guide to Recruiting Men into Early Years Education, funded by the Department for Education, which calls on early years employers to take active measures to recruit men.

The 20-page guide is aimed at managers in the early years sector and draws on best practice internationally and from within the UK to propose some strategies that could help providers attract more male staff. It has been endorsed by the Early Years AllianceNational Day Nurseries AssociationEarly Education, the Gender Equality Collective, the Men and Boys Coalition and leading neuroscientist Professor Gina Rippon.

Practical steps for early years providers

The MITEY guide offers practical ways for early years employers to attract more men into the workforce and provides the following suggestions.

  • Decide why you want men in your workforce and set a recruitment goal.

  • Replace “feminised” job titles such as “nursery nurse” with more gender-neutral terms such as “early years practitioner”.

  • Keep a check on sexist “workplace banter.”

  • Aim for diversity and inclusion at all times.

  • Include “positive action” statements, images of men and male case studies in job advertisements, to clarify that male applicants are welcome.

  • Hold open days targeted at attracting male recruits.

  • Promote early years and other caring jobs to boys of all ages.

  • Work with job centres to promote early years careers to men.

  • Promote vacancies via fathers who use early years provision, as well as mothers.

  • Support male employers well and use local male networks.

The guidance also recommends that providers sign up to the MITEY Charter which can be displayed in the setting or on its website.

The five points that make up the MITEY Charter are as follows.

  • We value men’s capacity to care for and educate children, both within families and as professionals.

  • We value the benefits to children of being educated and cared for by a diverse, mixed-gender early years workforce.

  • We acknowledge that early years education should benefit from the talents of all, so we are actively seeking to create a workforce that includes men, women and people with other gendered or non-gendered identities.

  • We are committed to removing the obstacles that stand in the way of a mixed-gender early years workforce, including low pay and status, limited career progression and gender-discriminatory treatment.

  • We view early years education as a critical context in which to address gender inequality and stereotypes, for the benefit of children and wider society.

The Charter is a great way for providers to show parents, staff and new recruits that they value men’s potential to contribute positively to the care and education of young children, and are taking steps to bring them into the workforce.