Last reviewed 19 October 2020

The early years sector in the UK needs a radical new strategy to gender-diversify its workforce, according to a new report by Lancaster University and the Fatherhood Institute.

The study, Gender EYE (Gender Diversification in Early Years Education), found that the Government and most early years employers have done very little to recruit and retain male staff. The latest figures suggest that only 3% of the early years workforce in England and Wales are men, rising slightly to 4% in Scotland and this has remained virtually static for 20 years.

The research aims to identify the obstacles that stand in the way of greater gender diversity in the early years workforce and to learn about possible solutions including those developed overseas.

The study reveals that less than a fifth (14%) of early years settings have pursued specific strategies aimed at recruiting men. Researchers found:

  • positive action strategies such as inviting male applicants for interview even if they are not a perfect fit for the job on paper, specifically inviting men to open days and making clear in adverts that men are welcome to apply are extremely rare

  • early years education is rarely or never suggested to boys and men by careers advisers or Job Centre staff

  • settings rarely promote vacancies directly to men or inspire potential male recruits.

These approaches have been found to be successful in other countries and in local pockets of good practice uncovered in the UK, such as the London Early Years Foundation, whose male workforce is well above the national average.

Strategies recommended to improve male recruitment and retention include:

  • reaching out to fathers who have spent more time than ever at home looking after their children during the Covid-19 lockdown and who may now be interested in a career in early years

  • better support for male staff who are more transient in early years jobs and may face objections to their involvement in intimate care

  • gender awareness training for all early years staff, which is currently offered to less than a fifth (16%) of practitioners, but could help reduce gender stereotyping within early years teams and in interactions with children.

Principal investigator Professor Jo Warin, from Lancaster University’s Department for Education Research, said:

“At a time when there is so much public attention on gender equality it is extraordinary to see just how intransigent the early years workforce is, based on traditional gender roles which are assumed to be ‘natural’. We need to capitalise on the shift that we have seen in many homes during the pandemic, with men adopting more prominent, care-giving roles. This could open up a window of opportunity – but men need to know that early years education is an option open to them. It is a crucial time to act when so many ‘traditional’ jobs are at risk and career changes are likely.”