Recently Blossom interviewed Shaddai Tembo, lecturer in Early Education and Childhood Practice at Perth College UHI. He is currently pursuing his doctorate in LGBTQ+ inequalities in Early Education.
He gave us interesting insight into men in the EYFS (or lack thereof) and shared his passion for promoting more diversity and challenging gender stereotypes in the sector.
Read on for Tembo’s methods and ideas for encouraging more men to join the EYFS.
We may require The Weather Girls to perform their hit single “It’s Raining Men” to bring us good fortune because the EYFS seems to be in a permanent male drought. However, Tembo did comment that the landscape is interesting at the moment. Certainly, there has been more emphasis on creating a more national approach towards more men in the EYFS. For example, we have seen national conferences in Bristol, Bradford, Southampton and London aimed at getting the message out there that we need more men in Early Education.
Unfortunately if we take a look at the numbers, over the last couple of years it has largely remained the same. In the last two decades the percentage of men in the EYFS sits at 2-4%. Broadly, we are seeing a greater awareness of gender and more attention around gender stereotypes as they apply to children. Tembo stressed the importance of promoting gender diversity, supporting gender diverse children and challenging gender stereotypes in the EYFS sector. He also mentioned that we are starting to see a little bit of this improvement in the profession.
Getting more men to become interested in Early Education and dismantling harmful stereotypes around men in the sector is no easy feat.
However, there are some practical and simple solutions you can try at your nursery. Here are Shaddai Tembo’s suggestions for action that nursery managers and owners can take:
Tembo’s main point was to, when it comes down to basics, take a proactive approach. In equality law, it says that if men are an underrepresented group in a particular profession, it is alright to say that you actively welcome applications for men in Early Years. This does not mean that every man who applies will get the position over a woman, but you should be welcoming applications for men and minority groups as much as possible.
Another method is to go out into the local community. Perhaps your local town or city has a network of men that get together and discuss men in EYFS issues, and that try to promote gender flexible practice and training around this topic. If there is not something like this currently existing in your community, why not look into forming one?
What is important is that you need to be able to say to your male applicants/staff that we are aware of the issues surrounding gender and we feel confident in supporting you. A little reassurance can go a long way. And this goes for all members of staff.
Look at your messaging around your nursery space and ensure that you show you are as inclusive as possible. Make sure that you are working to promote diversity in all forms around gender with the children. This will feed into the practitioner workforce as well. This is where staff training and the proactive approach comes into play.
Another way employers can be proactive in welcoming men into the sector, given that numbers are so low, is to go to them. Nurseries can go out to college open days to try and engage with those young men who have so often not been offered the Early Years as a career choice for them.
The MITEY UK online has great resources to try and support more men coming to the Early Years. There is also the MITEY UK charter where settings are able to sign up to this to pledge their commitment to supporting more men in the Early Years and outline the steps they will be taking.
The conversation then moved to something more serious. Tembo looked at the role the government plays in terms of not presenting an EYFS career as a respectable path for men. We looked at how responsible the government is for perpetuating harmful stereotypes such as that the EYFS is only for women. And historically, it’s fair to say that women have always been linked to taking up roles concerning child-caring.
If we look back to the 1960s, the nuclear family model where women were encouraged to stay at home and look after children was implemented by the UK government. Tembo commented that this has translated to the Early Education profession where it’s seen as an avenue or route mainly for women.
Tembo acknowledged that the government does have a role to play in perpetuating these harmful stereotypes and that it needs to challenge this. However, Tembo praised one example of the 2017 workforce strategy for the Early Years in the UK that included specific reference to more men in the sector.
However, this does not come without its own limitations, Tembo commented, saying that documents linked were questionable. The argument of ‘men for boys’ that was presented is problematic, says Tembo. The argument puts forward the stance that men are good for boys’ development, when in actual fact men can be good for boys and girls, regardless of gender.
This attitude also assumes that young children are missing this ‘fatherhood figure’ where we know that lots of children do perfectly well without a male role model in their life. Tembo commented that it is welcoming to see the nod towards more men (regarding the 2017 strategy) but we also need to be consistent in the message in what we are looking for.
Tembo also touched on the success of funding from the National Conference in London and praised the MITEY UK website commenting that it has been effective in creating a more cohesive message nationally. Tembo also mentioned that there is lots of work going on a local scale in small networks such as South Hampton, Bradford and Bristol.
However, it is definitely a tricky topic. A suggestion is to bring those resources together and look at how to get more men in Early Years- and have the information widely and easily accessible. We want the government to support the sector as much as possible.
Tembo proposed the idea that if the government shared the same support and funding to men in the EYFS as they do for women in STEM, it may be a different picture. However, this speaks to a broader issue of the EYFS not being valued as much as it should be. Short answer: the government could do a lot more.
We know that the harmful stereotypes are there and they exist, but what can we as an industry do about it? Unsurprisingly, this is a multifaceted issue. Generally speaking, we need to be challenging stereotypes in all forms whenever we see them. Tembo suggests looking at children’s culture and media for a start. But overall we need to take a more proactive approach to challenging these stereotypes.
There are lots of solutions that can be implemented. For example, there is the “Let Toys be Toys” campaign which has been excellent for holding manufacturers and retailers accountable in terms of not limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys. Most importantly, the campaign highlights not dictating who should be playing with what.
Of course, advertising plays a big part as well. Tembo placed emphasis on the fact that we first need to get the message right that we send out. This comes down to looking at the wording when executing campaigns. He commented that this is because when we call for more men in Early Years, often people look for one traditional type of man. But in actual fact we need to see diversity in Early Education. Tembo said “We need to see black men, [gay] men, disabled men. Basically, more men of all kinds.”
Overall the main point to take away is to have a diverse set of role models for the children to be with in the Early Education environment. Ultimately, the hope of having a diverse staff is that it will allow children to be more diverse in their own identity and not limited by the harmful stereotypes of ‘how to be a boy’ or ‘how to be a girl.’