ChildLinks Issue 2: Men in Early Childhood Education and Care

Barnardos. (2023). ChildLinks Issue 2: Men in Early Childhood Education and Care.
In Ireland, there has been rapid development across all areas of the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector over the past two decades, with a four-fold increase in the number of educators in the sector. The workforce remains, however, predominantly female, with the percentage of male ECEC educators only around 2%. This gender imbalance can also be seen across the US and the UK, and in most EU countries. The low proportion of male employees in professional care and education for the youngest children has been on the international agenda for decades, but little seems to have changed. But, why is this? First, although there have been sustained efforts to improve gender equality and eliminate widespread gender stereotypes in all areas of society for many years, even today we are bombarded with gendered messages, including that of women as having a more caring nature and being better suited to caring roles. Second, there is the issue of the generally low status and wages of the ECEC profession, often consisting of part time hours. The role of ECEC educator may not be seen to be a viable option for men, with the income judged insufficient for the ‘main breadwinner’ to sustain a family. The profession is widely perceived as more suited to women, who traditionally have combined their parenting roles with part-time employment. Other barriers cited as preventing men entering the sector include fear of or actual judgements of their sexuality, motives, and ability to care for young children. From a practical point of view, at a time when staff recruitment is an issue across the sector, it makes sense to widen the potential workforce, making ECEC a more visible career option for all. More gender balance in the workforce could have a positive impact on staff teams, affecting everyday practices. Improved gender balance in ECEC would also be beneficial for children, offering them an environment that is more representative of society in general. The absence of male role models in early years settings, and a lack of opportunity to interact with and build relationships with men outside their home and extended family, at a time when children are developing a sense of identity in relation to others, helps to reinforce gender stereotypes of women as more suited to such professions. The most important consideration in recruitment of course is that, during these formative years for children, those employed in ECEC – both male and female – have the knowledge, skills and aptitude to provide quality care and education that supports young children’s holistic development. Broadening the potential workforce increases the chances of recruiting the best person for the job. In this issue of ChildLinks, academics and educators from across Ireland, the UK, the EU and Australia consider the issue of gender imbalance in the ECEC workforce and examine the challenges for men entering the profession. They also explore how the issue is being addressed internationally, both to raise awareness and to employ practical strategies to recruit and retain more men into the sector.