Only 3 per cent of the UK’s early years workforce is male – a figure that has hardly improved for the past 20 years.
Blame for this is often laid at men’s door.
But the early years sector should be doing much more to welcome men.
Quick read: 'Why it’s hard being a male primary teacher'
Quick listen: ‘No school is immune from gender stereotypes'
Want to know more? Early warning: we need more men
Here are some top tips for what those in the sector can do:
How to get more men into EYFS
Be clear on why you want men
If you do this, you’re more likely to create a successful recruitment campaign. Lots of nursery owners and managers approach this by emphasising gender difference, saying they want male staff to act as role models or make up for fathers absent from children’s (especially boys’) lives.
You would never load such expectations on to a female staff member – you would just want her to be an excellent practitioner, doing the job to the best of her ability.
It makes much more sense to focus your strategy on improving representation; you want more men because you want your workforce to better represent the community it serves, not because you want men to bring some special, gendered ingredient.
This way, you open your team to the many, diverse skills and perspectives that men, like women, offer.
Put yourself in men’s shoes
“Feminised” job titles such as "nursery nurse" are old-fashioned and may be off-putting (or at least not encouraging) to potential male recruits. "Early years practitioner" and "early years educator" sound much more gender-neutral and professional.
Think about what a man’s motivations might be for wanting to work in your setting. Many male practitioners like not working in a traditional 9-5, and value the ability to make their mark by changing children’s lives.
Some may enjoy outdoors play, creative aspects of the job and the sense of playing a part in shaping children’s minds. Use these as the hooks to pull men in.
Prepare your team
Ideally, you should offer unconscious bias or other gender-sensitivity training, and at the very least you should keep any eye on sexist workplace “banter”: loose talk about men being "useless" with children or women being better at caring and multi-tasking should be challenged, for example.
Take positive action
In many fields it is standard practice for employers to include a clear statement in job advertisements saying that they welcome applications from people in under-represented groups – usually women and/or people from black and minority ethnic communities.
In the UK this is permitted under the Equality Act, but while there can be little doubt that men are under-represented in early years education, it is almost unheard of for employers in this sector to include such statements in their advertising. In fact, equality law allows you to take positive action before or during the job application stage.
Steps you can take include encouraging the under-represented group (in our case, men) to apply; you could even offer them extra help (like training or other support) not available to other applicants - to help them perform to the best of their ability at interview, for example. Holding an open day targeted at men could be a good place to start.
We need to start having conversations with men and boys in which we actively encourage their interest in taking up careers in early years education, to increase the chances of gender diversity now and in the future.
Start with the males your setting comes into regular contact with: dads dropping their children off, and the children themselves. Invite them to consider what they could bring to early years work, and be prepared to challenge any stereotyped negativity they might throw your way.
The Mitey (Men in the Early Years) Guide to Recruiting Men into Early Years Education is available as a free download to members of the Mitey network.
Dr Jeremy Davies is project lead for Men in the Early Years (Mitey) and head of communications at the Fatherhood Institute