Gender inclusivity? Don't forget the men!

By June O'Sullivan

| 07 February 2018

I wrote my first blog about men in childcare in August 2012. It was prompted by a LEYF male colleague, David Stevens, who said we shouldn't just concentrate on increasing men into childcare at LEYF (eight per cent of LEYF workforce were male) but open up the debate entirely, so we launched the London Men in Childcare Network in November 2012. These were the days of healthy recruitment pipelines and strong retention; a now dim and almost mystical memory.

The issue of men in childcare remains. But for me it's not just about gender inclusion, resonant of the headlines hitting the BBC. Its also about failing to consider half the population when seeking out great staff to work in the early years.

We all know the perceived barriers to entry: poor pay, lack of promotion opportunities, poor status, fear of accusations of abuse and paedophilia, discomfort at working in such a highly female work environment and an expectation that one man can address the shortfall of positive male roles in so many children's lives. We make progress and then take two steps back when we are confronted by unhelpful comments like those of Andrea Leadsom in July 2016 when she suggested we should not appoint males for childcare duties because they may be paedophiles. Sadly, there are plenty more where these came from and they keep on coming.

Despite this we have also started to better understand the reasons men want to work in childcare. In the original LEYF Men in Childcare report, written by Sue Chambers in 2012 and in Wellbeing in the Early Years; Critical Approaches, we found that men were interested in child development and wanted to teach small children. It is important for us to continue to listen to men and actually hear what they have to say.

We continue to make progress, with some great male advocates, such as David Wright and the work he does with Paint Pots. From a government point of view, I hope the DfE Task and Finish group of early years stakeholders focusing on gender diversity in the sector, constituted under Caroline Dinenage, will be backed by our new childcare minister Nadhim Zahawi.

However, back to recruitment. We know that there are men who want to work with children so let's encourage them. We are still short 25,000 staff across the sector and Scotland is expanding its provision, needing 11,000 new staff. In 2017, CEEDA reported that five per cent of the 3,930 staff she interviewed in the PVI sector were male. That is positive as we still have a target across the sector to achieve two per cent.

So let's encourage more men, it's another step in tolerance, something we seem very short on at the moment.

Hearing from them directly is the best way forward. Listen to a podcast or watch a video. LEYF staff happily share their experience; deputy manager at Bird in Bush Community Nursery Ricky recently reflected on his journey, and Jamel shared his story last week, reminding us that: "If you're a person who is nurturing, brave, creative, inspiring, fun, this is the job for you, regardless of whether you're male or female."

June O'Sullivan is chief executive of London Early Years Foundation. This blog first appeared on the LEYF website

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