Interview - Jeremy Davies, head of communications at the Fatherhood Institute

Monday, May 13, 2019

The organisation is leading a new project, funded by the Department for Education, to encourage more men into childcare

WHAT DOES THE PROJECT INVOLVE?

The DfE has commissioned us to produce some resources to help the early years sector make better progress on recruiting men. Between now and March 2020, we’ll be publishing ‘How to’ guides, case studies and so on – aimed at employers, men who might be interested in early years work, and careers advisers – on our new MITEY (Men in The Early Years) UK website.

There will be a national MITEY conference in September, a jobs board and some online support sessions for men already working in the sector.

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE?

The ultimate aim is to support the early years sector to achieve a gender-diverse early years workforce. I think there’s a growing understanding that we need to get much better at this – we want our children to believe in gender equality, but we show them something completely different in their crucial, formative years.

People can see that the 3 per cent male figure [percentage in early years settings] is just not good enough. But at the same time, we know it’s not going to change overnight – we need big shifts in thinking, and people trying out new approaches. Through MITEY and the GenderEYE (Gender Diversity in Early Education) project led by Lancaster University, I hope this next 12-18 months will help the sector start to get its house more in order.

WHY DO YOU THINK CHILDCARE IS STILL CONSIDERED A WOMAN’S PROFESSION?

Because that’s what it is. We’re so used to having a workforce that’s 97 per cent female that we accept it as inevitable – and I refuse to believe that’s the case. Britain is a depressingly ‘maternalist’ culture – it’s 2019, almost 50 years since the Equal Pay Act, and it’s still routine for politicians and journalists to talk about the cost of childcare as if it’s a women’s issue.

Part of what I want to do is to inject a bit of outrage into the sector. We need to get people motivated about the benefits of a mixed-gender workforce – why it’s good for children, good for parents, good for business and good for society generally. We’re kicking things off with a MITEY Charter, which has some really clear statements I hope employers will be happy to sign up to, and a ‘myth-buster’ where we unpick some of the myths and stereotypes about men in the early years.

At the same time, I’m not going to suggest there are millions of men clamouring to get into early years, because there probably aren’t. But I really believe there is a bunch of men who could be persuaded to try early years as a career, if we approach them in the right way. Part of that is also making sure we have an infrastructure that’s really geared up to welcoming men, looking after the ones we’ve already got, and thinking intelligently about gender in a wider sense.

WOULD YOU AGREE THAT PAY IS A LARGE BARRIER?

Up to a point, yes – it certainly doesn’t help. More men than women are the sole or main breadwinner in their family, so early years salaries just won’t cut it for a proportion of them. But not all men are in that situation, and of course, why should women put up with low pay either? In any case, if we just keep going on about pay being a barrier for men, we’ll end up doing nothing – and I firmly believe there are lots of other things we can change that will help attract more men to the sector.

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