Men face unique barriers when pursuing careers in early years and childcare. We spoke with two practitioners, Gary Simpson and Jake Forecast, of different generations with different career experiences, to hear their insights on what can be done to improve the gender disparity in early years settings.
Men make up as little as 2% of the early years and childcare workforce. In 2019, the DfE launched an initiative in partnership with the Fatherhood Institute to tackle the gender stereotypes that prevent men from taking on roles in early years settings, and to boost male employment in the sector.
We’ve always championed increased gender equity in early years and childcare, which is why we wanted to speak to two practitioners about their experience as men in the industry. We spoke with Gary Simpson, Academy Manager at Leif, who has worked in childcare for 30 years, and recent primary education degree graduate Jake Forecast. Both shared valuable insights on the barriers they faced and their perspective on what can be done to improve gender representation in this field.
Men face barriers to access
Gary Simpson has had a successful 30-year career in early years and childcare. However, after he first completed his National Nursery Examination Board (now a CACHE) qualification, he did face barriers to entering the workforce. Gary explained: “When I was looking for my first job, I had to clarify that I was qualified and that I wasn’t applying for a job for a female family member. That I was looking for a role in early years, and I was looking for an opportunity. Because then, it was a very unusual thing to have a man working in childcare.”
Although Gary says that progress has been made over the past 30 years, recent graduate Jake Forecast has still faced stigmas that have made it difficult to pursue a career in this sector. While studying his CACHE Early Years Education Care Educator qualification at New City College, Jake observed that some of the parents were reluctant to talk to him as the only male member of staff. “I think it was a case of parents being too scared to speak to me, because I was the only male in the nursery.”
Jake received public backlash after he contributed to an article about opening up access to opportunities for men in early years and childcare settings. “I received a lot of hate online, mainly around stereotypes about being male and being LGBTQ+.” This shows how many barriers there are still to overcome for men to feel comfortable in the sector.
Gary Simpson has observed over his 30-year career how attitudes towards men in childcare have changed for the better. “We have a lot of men working at Leif and we’ve seen an increase in early years and childcare education.” Gary attributes this to more conversations about the positive impact of men in childcare and that, culturally, men are better recognised as nurturers than they were before.
He said: “There’s a lot more being done to look for men working in childcare and encouraging men to consider childcare. There’s also been a societal change regarding the balance of parenting roles. I’ve seen a shift over the years in the number of dads who pick their children up from nursery. When I first started in childcare, predominantly it was the mums."
Jake Forecast was further encouraged by the changing attitude towards early years professionals during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020: “Respect for early years increased, which was great, but I think we need to see how it all plays out. I saw a lot of people saying: ‘Oh, I want to be a teacher now.’ I think we need to carry on with that recognition, in a way – rather than just having a one-year boost of it.”
The future for men in early years
Both Gary and Jake believe that more needs to be done to combat the social attitudes which may prevent men from pursuing careers in the sector. Jake remains concerned about men’s internal fears: “These three main factors put men off: there are the stereotypes if men not being so affectionate or emotional; there’s the pressure of being in an environment dominated by women; and the fears of being targeted with abuse. We need to figure out how to get around these issues.”
Both want to improve marketing of the career to those currently outside of the profession, as internal messaging about the value of men in childcare is frequently directed to those men already working in the field.
Gary believes that we must start to “talk to men who currently do not work in early years, and do more to share this as a potential career, and a great opportunity.”
Both acknowledge societal attitudes towards men need to further evolve to make the sector a more welcoming place for them. “No matter what we do to get men into early years, we can only do so much – it’s about people’s views and what they want to do,” Jake commented. However, the progress men in childcare have made over the last 30 years surely bodes well for the next 30.