Professional Resource

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Hot Topic: Men in the Early Childhood Field

A conversation from MemberConnect

Editor’s Note: Recently a ZERO TO THREE member, Dave, posted a question on Member Connect that got a lot of members buzzing. The topic he raised—men working in the female-dominated field of early childhood—is relevant across most of the professional sector represented by our members, so we thought it worthy of highlighting in Crib Notes. We’ve reproduced the conversation thread from Member Connect. It is still an active thread, so please feel free to add your perspective to the conversation! We also included some recent reports and resources on this important topic. If you have others that will stimulate further thinking and conversation, please add them to the Member Connect discussion as well.

The Conversation:

Dave, Compliance Coordinator from Oklahoma:

To male ZTT members, I have a question. Are there any secrets that you have that help you get by working in a female-dominated profession?

When I first got my Early Childhood degree (in 1988), there were three men in our graduating class, and we were the first men to get that degree from that institution in 17 years. All three of us found problems landing jobs in EC and ended up doing other things. Then in 2009 I reentered Early Childhood, first as a state Licensing specialist and for the past four years at a non-profit. The total number of men in my current job have ranged from two to seven since I have been there, out of about 120 people. That’s about the ratio it was at my state job, too.

I have no problems at all working for female bosses, and I absolutely love the differences we are making in children’s lives. But there are other aspects of the job that at times are tough, and I would like to know how you cope with those aspects of it. Thanks for any insights you may have.

Sam, Assistant Therapeutic Director from South Carolina:

Hey Dave, welcome back to the field! I have actually seen the opposite in my city where men in our field are sought out. As the Assistant Clinical Director at my organization I also like to hire males because many of our children are being cared for by women and don’t have a male role model in the home. So I have seen benefit to having that positive male role model in the classroom. We are definitely a minority in the field, but I feel like I’ve seen a slow increase over the past few years.

Dave:

Thanks, Sam. Yes, it has gotten better since 1988. The reason the three of us left the field was that we got our master’s degrees from a Southern Baptist seminary, and at that time churches thought if you were a man and wanting to work with children there was something wrong with you. Plus, many churches preferred to hire women because they wanted to pay less. (A woman was “children’s director,” which is a non-ordained position, while a man was “children’s minister,” usually an ordained one. Their pay scales were higher for ministers than for directors.)

At my non-profit, we have tried hiring men, with some success. But then some men leave for higher paying jobs, some leave because parents don’t trust a man in their child’s classroom, and every once in a while we have had to terminate someone for other reasons.

When we had 6-7 men, we formed a support group to meet on a regular basis, but then most of those guys left, so it fell apart. My experience has been that the children respond very well when there is a positive role model around, so I enjoy being able to help with that. I love getting hugs and high-fives and fist bumps from toddlers. That usually makes my day!

Jacki, Parents as Teachers Coordinator from Kansas:

Do you have any resistance from families, especially single women, who are uncomfortable having a male home visitor?

Dave:

Yes. We just had a male home visitor we are having to move because the mom’s family didn’t feel comfortable with him visiting her home. When I was in [Child Care] Licensing one provider refused to let me in her home “for religious reasons.” She was actually trying to hide violations and used that as an excuse.

Judy, Family Life Educator and consultant from Alberta, Canada:

It seems unfair. My son is an RN and faces the same issues when he is practicing in rural homecare. Yet, parents take their children to male pediatricians and obstetricians all the time.

Robin, Child Psychotherapist from the United Kingdom:

You might be interested in the UK experience. We have health visitors (a universal service) who are male—admittedly very few—and the ones I know did not meet resistance. (There are even a handful of male midwives practising). Perhaps because the exact same profession is found everywhere, and the mother’s mother would also have had the same service, as does every mother across the UK. So the professional identity is seen to provide security.

As a child psychotherapist running an IMH team working primarily in the family home I never had any problem, apart from a few times when domestic violence turned out to be a previously hidden feature and then it was the male partners who objected. A part of this acceptance may be the “cover” provided by working for the National Health Service which confers acceptability across all services. With some ethnic minorities where there might be cultural objections to a male seeing a woman alone this was always checked out beforehand by the health visitor as well.

But as everywhere, us males working in IMH are a minority.

Maia, Program Consultant from Washington:

I’m glad to hear this topic brought up. I am female and often wonder how it is for men in this field.

Dave:

From the guys who were in our support group for awhile, most expressed a sense of isolation:

  • women would have after-work functions but never invite the men;
  • if they applied for promotion, all the interviewers were women, so they felt like they started at a disadvantage;
  • many women greet each other with a hug, but then ignore their male counterparts.

Those are just some examples. There are others.

You know, many of the feelings they were expressing are probably similar to what women experience when entering a male-dominated field.

Mayra, Marriage and Family Therapist from California:

Hi Dave. I work for a mostly Latino population and there seems to be this preconceived notion that during the home visits, the father of the household would not appreciate a man coming to give his female partner the visit. There is also a cultural component that you are not physically touching other men who are outside of your family or it may be interpreted as inappropriate.

At the same time, I want to have the opportunity to hire males, because as you said, the children we work with may not have positive male role models, so having one from an organization will make the difference in the life of those little boys.

For Further Exploration:

  • [Supporting Men as Early Childhood Educators](https://www.cdacouncil.org/newsletter/1525-the-councils-newest-white-paper-supporting-men-as-early-childhood-educators) (Oct. 2019), white paper from the Council for Professional Recognition.
  • An Examination of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Factors Influencing Men’s Decisions to Teach Young Children (Oct. 2019), [full research report](https://www.bmcc.cuny.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/BMCCTechnicalReportkt-revised.pdf) and [research brief](https://www.bmcc.cuny.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/BMCCPlaisirBrief2019.pdf).
  • [Men in Early Childhood Education](https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/insight-therapy/201907/no-man-s-land-where-are-the-male-daycare-caregivers), TEDx Talk.
  • [No Man’s Land: Where Are the Male Daycare Caregivers?](https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/insight-therapy/201907/no-man-s-land-where-are-the-male-daycare-caregivers), Psychology Today

Editor’s Note: These resources represent perspectives on men in early childhood education. If you know of similar resources for men in other professional sectors serving very young children and their families, please share them, or your own perspectives, on the Member Connect thread titled “Male ZTT Members.”

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