Only two per cent of early years childcare workers are male. Lisa Salmon talks to the Fatherhood Institute about their drive to get more men into the industry

MOST men would love to be “a hero every day”. That’s the way working as a male childcarer has been described by men themselves, but there are still only a handful of males working in the field.

Despite years of progress towards greater gender balance in many professions, the early years education and childcare workforce remains stubbornly dominated by female staff – the latest figures show that only two per cent are male.

The Fatherhood Institute charity is striving to change this, pointing out that a huge effort is needed to make early years education and childcare jobs more attractive and accommodating for men.

The Institute has produced a Men in Childcare guide, based on work with eight local authorities, offering recommendations for how to improve recruitment.

“Governments have been talking about wanting to improve male representation in the early years workforce for many years, but we’re still a long way from cracking this,” says Fatherhood Institute chief executive Adrienne Burgess. “Our message to men is this: you’re just as capable of making a success of a career in early years and childcare.”

The Institute says barriers to male recruitment include: l Lack of relevant information and careers advice about working in early years education.

  • Too few vocational training courses marketed at men and designed with men in mind.
  • A failure among employers to proactively recruit men and ensure workplaces are welcoming to them.
  • Negative attitudes and stereotyping about men in childcare.
  • Low pay, which is also a concern for female recruits.

“Everyone assumes that men don’t go into childcare because of low pay,” says Burgess. “It is a low pay area, but there is career progression, and one of the reasons it’s stayed low paid is that it’s a very satisfying job.”

Career progression, she says, includes advocacy work with children, nursery management, local authority roles in childcare funding an children’s charity work.

Burgess says: “Once you have a qualification in childcare, you have a recognised skill that can be used in many related areas – aside from the fact that people who learn to work with children are likely to become better parents.”

She says male childcarers have told her that, as well as opening up a lot of careers, they felt they were really noticed at work, with one saying, “You’re a hero every day”.

“What he meant is that the children love you,” explains Burgess. “Because men in childcare are unusual, every child who sees a male worker hangs off his hands the whole time. They stand out and they’re a hero every day.

“Male childcarers say it doesn’t feel like a job – you learn a lot, and it’s really great fun. They feel that bringing children up is a worthwhile career.”

What is crucial, she stresses, is thorough safeguarding by childcare providers to prevent child abuse of any kind.

“Safeguarding is important both for the men themselves, who are always fearful about some allegation being made against them, and for the nurseries,” says Burgess.

If childcare providers, training institutions and local authorities advertise proactively for male childcarers to train or get jobs within childcare, the results are likely to be positive both for men and the children they look after.

“When children walk into a nursery and see an entirely female workforce, they go home believing only women look after children. Such gender stereotypes help nobody. We need diversity, and without men, you have the most fundamental non-diversity. Men have no less skills than women in looking after children – it’s not a gender thing.

“And for the nurseries themselves, I think having male staff could be a huge pull for parents if it’s properly marketed.”

Indeed, The Co-operative Childcare is aiming to increase the number of men working in its nurseries, saying that male staff have much to offer, not least as positive role models for boys, especially where their own father is absent.

Mike Abbott, general group manager at The Co-operative Childcare, says: “With men under-represented in the childcare industry, we think they should be championed.

“Gender stereotypes in childcare can hold some men back from what could be their ideal career path where they can positively influence our next generation.”

Young Men in Childcare, see