Blokes can do it as well

It is essential for children to have both men and women working together in their care and education. Men have something to offer that is different to what females have to offer. Both men and women together can make fundamental contributions to the care and education of young children.

However, there is still a long way to go to increase the numbers of men in early childhood education. This requires acceptance within early childhood services of the vital role of male staff, preventing men’s professional isolation, encouraging and supporting males to enter and stay in the field, and enhancing the early childhood profession as a whole.

So what are the challenges, and what can be done?

Challenges for employers

There are some challenges for employers in encouraging acceptance. When families (who are engaged in a partnership with the service) express fear or negative attitudes towards male workers the employer may come to the view that to employ a male is fraught with too many difficulties.  Children&EducatorOnline

Some female workers also still view the field as a “women’s place”, and so employing a male in an all female staff team can present difficulties. There are two sides to this challenge for employers. The male worker could receive well-intentioned and protective behaviour from their women colleagues, therefore not allowing him to develop professionally to grow into a respected team member. On the other hand, a male worker in this environment could be ostracised and made to feel isolated, therefore causing frustration and perhaps his resignation.

To encourage acceptance employers can examine their policies and practices to ensure the service is male-friendly. Included in these considerations are a service’s attitude towards male educators, the environment, the communication methods the service uses (including advertising for new staff) and what is in place to help men feel comfortable.

Men as potential employees

Working or studying in isolation from other men is a difficult situation to be placed in, as a male. It has been found that males can be made to feel invisible or unimportant through social, physical or professional isolation. Compounding this isolation is the apathy in the profession towards males and their concerns. This is especially true when considering the barriers to involvement, for example the fear of being branded a child abuser.

Another real challenge is the status of the profession. Entering the early childhood profession often means accepting low pay, low prestige job. This is a problem for all educators, but if a male worker has a family and is in a breadwinner role, then in most cases his wage would not be sufficient to support a family. There is a challenge here to weigh up the sustainability of earning less than in other careers.

Many men also have to deal with the attitude that males are seen as “transient” workers. It has been found that men are viewed as wanting to use the early childhood area as a stepping-stone to other careers so therefore their commitment is questioned. There is some general resentment that men will aim only to go into a management role.

Once a male educator has started working in the profession it also takes a great deal of experience and support for a male educator to interact with children within his own particular male identity. The environment in early childhood services is female dominated, so men may suffer conflict and stress when they try to live up to the expectations of playing this role.

Educators / training institutions

Educators and training institutions wanting to engage men can develop an explicit approach through advertising materials and course information that specifically targets men as potential students.

Teaching staff can also make sure that when a male is in a course, often by himself or with one other, that the female students are not given the impression that the male students receive preferential treatment.

To further support a male student, it is important to consider adapting course materials to take into account learning styles of male students and also the male perspective on children and families. Seeking mentoring opportunities can also help to decrease the isolation of male students by placing them with experienced male workers on practical placements.

Challenges for policy makers

There are significant challenges for policy makers in supporting greater support for men in the early childhood field.

Recruitment or employment policy strategies have traditionally been geared towards groups that are under-represented in the broader labour market, including people with a disability, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders and women.

The early childhood workforce is facing very high turnover rates with shortages of staff. There are policies in place that aim to increase the number and diversity of potential recruits, but men are not specifically mentioned within the documents, despite the opportunities.

Previous attempts to actively recruit and support men into teaching, including scholarships, have been met with claims of inequity towards women.  Nonetheless there is a strong case for the early childhood sector to ensure that males are better represented. This will not only help address the gender pay gap, but improve equity for all.

The challenges outlined above are vast, but with courage not impossible to address – and ultimately good for children.

Craig D'Arcy

Craig d’Arcy is currently the Coordinator of a small community preschool in Northern NSW, Australia. Craig has a wide range of experience in the early childhood field, working in a diverse variety of positions with children and families. Craig’s previous work roles include; Early Childhood Director / Teacher, Lecturer at University and TAFE in early childhood studies, Inclusion Support facilitator, Engaging Fathers Project community worker and casework consultant for children with disabilities. In addition, he is also the Australian member of the leadership team for the World Forum on Care and Education project – Men in Early Childhood Education. He is the facilitator of the National Males in Early Childhood Network, which he established in 2002. Craig’s most important job is being a husband and dad to his 6 children.

15 thoughts on “Blokes can do it as well”

    emma beckett says:

    I agree Craig. I love having blokes work with us and our children. I’ve just employed another man. He is absolutely fantastic. Kids love him, and you are right, he brings a perspective that a female educator can’t bring no matter how great they are. Our children need men as much as they do women.

    Wayne says:

    I believe the article is very interesting and points out vaild points. I feel we need to retrain how it is accepted in ECE. That we all play important part in first five years of a child and beyond either female or male. As we all have our own unique way, values, philosophy on ECE that we are passionate about been educators.

    Yarrow says:

    This post seems to be in need of an understanding of gendered power-relations in society. There are a number of claims made in this paper that need to be challenged on this basis, but I will restrict myself to just two.
    I wonder whether early childhood feels like it not male-friendly simply because it is one of the few places in society when men do not experience unearned and unexamined privilege. That ‘problem’ does not need to be fixed unless and until that unearned privilege is no longer apparent, which would mean women experiencing equal access and treatment across the rest of the (more lucrative) field of employment.
    And the claim about ‘breadwinners’? We are no longer in the early 1900s, and the days of the Harvester judgement. There are many women who are breadwinners for their families today, whether as single parents or in couples, and they would be right to feel subtly insulted by the thought that it is only male early childhood staff who have to weigh up the joys of the work with the poverty-level wages.
    As I said, I could continue, but I’d rather others added there own voices to this conversation instead.

    Catharine Hydon says:

    Craig….your comments about the ‘status of the profession’ and the necessity to accept ‘low pay, low prestige job’ and the male educators in a breadwinner role’ seem to suggest that this is more of a problem because it is experienced by men and that we ought to feel a greater sense of outrage because it happens to men. There are plenty of women working in our fine profession who experience this and have done so for many years.. lets address these issues in the name of women!!

    Alistair says:

    I find your points interesting and agree that it is beneficial to have males in the early childhood field however looking at my own experiences I question your points.
    I have been working in the field for the past three years having studied for two years prior to that. My employer has been nothing but supportive, if a family questions the appropriateness of a male in the field I am supported and defended by my co-educators before I get to defend myself.
    As an employee I am encouraged to further develop myself professionally and given the same opportunities as any female in the company. In terms of the fields status, this is known before any study or employment takes place. It is an individuals choice and passion that drives them to proceed into the field irrelevant of gender.
    In terms of studying, again it is the individuals drive and approach to their course and studies that determine how teaching staff aid them.
    Looking at policy, I believe as you have stated that the field is under appreciated. I don’t agree with the focus on males though. My experiences have seen genders working closely together for equality again irrelevant of gender. Females have long since been demoralised in other fields, just because males are having a stronger presence in early childhood won’t and shouldn’t change that. It is a males choice to work in a field dominated by females and it is up to us all to work together to change how we are treated as educators of both genders as one.

    Denise says:

    The most recent posts raise similar concerns to my own so I now seek some clarifications from you Craig.

    What does/would a male friendly service look like? What would be put in place to help men feel comfortable? Would it be the power, privileges and the overarching sense of entitlement of mainstream society?

    Can you explain how a male educator interacts with children within his own particular male identity? How does a female dominated environment stop a male educator live up to the expectations of playing this role? Is this the key to understanding the vital role of male educators in early childhood that you state exists?

    What is the strong case for the early childhood sector to ensure that males are better represented? How will this help address the gender pay gap? Do you mean that if more men earned the low pay by working in early childhood, the average male earning would decrease, thus reducing the gap?

    And how would more male educators working in early childhood improve equity for all?

    I know it isn’t very nice having the commitment to your profession questioned. But take heart, you now share the experience of any women being asked – directly or indirectly – about their plans to have children in the near future or an Aboriginal person being asked – directly or indirectly – about whether they will go walkabout or take time off for family business….the list could go on.

    I would like to see early childhood working towards de-gendering our workplaces and educational environments where, for example: educator teams are not addressed as ladies or girls; children are not ask to identify their gender for ease of group dispersals; stereotypes and gendered expectations of children’s behaviour are not left unchallenged by educators when talking with children, families and educators; it is not assumed that “Mum” will do the washing and “Dad” will come to the working bee; etc.

    It is within this gender-power paradigm that I believe that “the challenges …. are vast, but with courage not impossible to address – and ultimately good for children.”

    Craig d'Arcy says:

    First of all, an important acknowledgement is required – to the countless number of hard working, intelligent and amazing women in early childhood that I have worked with and been inspired by over the years. You don’t need men to come in and rescue you or to come in to be your ‘boss’. That is definitely not my intention when advocating for increasing the numbers of men who educate and care for young children. I also need to say that I firmly believe that we shouldn’t have men in early childhood just because they are male, but only if they are the best person for the job.

    This is not an us vs. them argument.

    I wish to thank you for taking the time to add your thoughts and criticisms of my blog piece. I would suggest that one of the intentions of The Spoke is that it promotes comments and perhaps debate – so it is from that perspective I wrote my piece. I wrote it and titled it unashamedly and purely from a male perspective. It’s a few hundred words that only discusses the issues from a male view, nothing more. Therefore for example in the comment stating ‘if a male breadwinner…’ the word male could easily and justifiably be replaced with female. The outrage must be expressed and shared on behalf of the entire workforce, but it wasn’t this article’s intention or scope to do that.

    The critical comments that have been placed here I mainly agree with, but they are highlighting part of a much larger concern – that hopefully can be raised in this forum and others. My observation of the men who do enter the field are that they have the qualities required to be kind and nurturing professionals, who do not have an agenda to perpetuate male hegemony. We as human beings who choose to care and educate young children share so many more similarities than differences.

    I feel that we are missing out here on the chance to lead the way and exhibit to the ‘mainstream’ how it should be, with diversity as our foundation. In 2009, The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) developed the National Early Childhood Development Strategy, Investing in the Early Years – with the vision that by 2020, all children will have the best start in life to create a better future for themselves and for the nation. The strategy highlights that early childhood workforce issues are widely regarded as the key challenge for achieving the vision for children. One of the goals of the strategy is by 2020 – The profile of the early childhood workforce reflects the community.

    Both boys and girls require many opportunities to be introduced to a whole range of identities, in order to either accept them or reject them and form their own particular identity. How can that be achieved if we do not embrace our differences and provide a meaningful place for all to contribute? Do we want to continue to perpetuate and reinforce these ‘mainstream’ experiences and attitudes in early childhood services?

    Furthermore, if we accept that we need to ‘de-gender’ our services, then it goes to follow that it should be acceptable to have some services staffed entirely by males? I’m definitely not advocating for that model because I don’t think that it is in the best interests for children. Just as I also think our current gendered workforce is not in the best interests of children either.

    The ACECQA National Quality Framework Resource Kit (p.111), states –
    Diversity within the team in terms of skills, experiences and backgrounds enhances the team and ultimately leads to more effective and responsive programs for children.

    This is the ideal that we should all be working toward, functioning as an equitable and respectful community – together! Our children and families deserve that.

    Kodi says:

    I’m sorry but if you feel that there’s no longer any societal expectation for men to play a main breadwinner role in many (not all) households, then you must live in a different Australia to the one I live in. Gender ‘roles’ are firmly entrenched compared to many other parts of the world, and I think it was fair of the author to acknowledge this (thankfully, weakening) societal perspective given the topic of the article.

    Kodi says:

    Sorry, my comment above was in response to Yarrow.

    I’d also like to address a question raised by Denise, which was roughly ‘how does a female dominated environment prevent a male educator living up to the expectations of this role?’. Sadly it’s through the widespread acceptance of incidents such as an educator bouncing a child on their knee and telling the lone male teacher in the setting, with a smile ‘of course you can’t do this’, or having a colleague air their opinion that males shouldn’t be placed in early childhood settings as they aren’t allowed to help with toileting issues. Or having a mentor teacher tell them they’d never know how to communicate well with children until they became a father. Or a parent aggressively demand to know why they said hello to their child at the door to a classroom, when working as a relief teacher. All of which happened to a male teacher colleague of mine during their short time teaching younger children.

    Craig d'Arcy says:

    Hi Kodi

    Thanks for your response and your support of this blog piece.

    Unfortunately I didn’t receive any feedback from other responders who criticised my original post, after I replied to them. It would have been interesting to continue exchanging opinions and ideas.

    In your second reply, you have highlighted issues that occur on a daily basis that our female colleagues do not even have to think about.

    Feels like we have a long way to go…both in the early childhood sphere and in general society.

    Donald Piburn says:

    To put it mildly, gender is a complex topic. I am a feminist and I perceive myself as an advocate for gender equality, self-determination, equal opportunity, and social justice. As such I am very aware that being a feminist means very different things to different people. Something I think we can agree on is the assumption that careers in early education are suitable for one-gender-only restricts opportunities for all children. That children in many societies view early care giving and early education as principally a female obligations has been described as “a key aspect of global gender inequalities,” because it reinforces stereotypic notions about gender attributes and roles. Assumptions and stereotypes based on gender infringe on principles of equal opportunity, consequentially narrowing education, career, and employment possibilities for both genders. Not only are gender stereotypes artificial, but they can interfere with children’s learning about interpersonal relationships, caregiver interdependence, and caregiving skills that all children need as they mature. Social institutions with a uniform workforce do not inspire gender equality, social justice, and other important democratic values.

    Kodi says:

    Thank you Craig. A new example came to me recently as a WA colleague shared an idea on social media that at first glance looked good – a slumber party where the children and teachers come to school in the evening in their PJ’s, and they ‘snuggle up under blankets and read to each other’. It’s a fantastic idea, but it saddened me that it’s one that male staff could never suggest without feeling inappropriate (I’m not saying it’s something I’d want to do in my classroom, just that the range of activities open to female teachers without an eye being batted but off limits for male teachers, is vaster than many female teachers will ever have considered.

    It is for this reason that the tone of some of the criticisms of your piece left rather a bad taste in my mouth, as they seemed to support the continuation of inequality. The fact that in some ways male teachers face a more challenging workplace than female teachers should not be dismissed as some kind of redress for the many ills visited upon women in the workplace (largely but not exclusively by men) in the past and present.

    Kodi says:

    Denise: “How does a female dominated environment stop a male educator live up to the expectations of playing this role? Is this the key to understanding the vital role of male educators in early childhood that you state exists?”

    Unfortunately you’d be amazed how many times male teachers are looked down upon by colleagues for doing things ‘differently’: being more spontaneous than organised, ‘overexciting’ the children rather than maintaining order, letting the play get too rough or noisy and so on. Then again, while I sincerely hope it’s not the case, I am open to the idea that perhaps they’re all right and I’m simply a hopeless teacher, regardless of my gender. Were it not for great social and academic results each year and large amounts of praise and support from admin and from parents, I know for a fact the negative voices would have won eventually and I’ve have left the profession. In fact, in a male early childhood teacher group I belong to, the criticisms I’ve outlined above have been levied at almost every member – and almost always originating from the support roles in the schools – some of whom are simply not comfortable working with a male teacher.

    Kodi says:

    *I’d have left

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