It’s a well known fact: the vast majority of people working in child care are females. Figures from the ABS show that at least 95 per cent of the working population of child care workers are female.

Attracting men to the industry is difficult and complicated: there are issues surrounding parental suspicion of men and the idea that child care is ‘women’s work’, the low pay and status of child care workers have also been identified as a deterrent.

However, for an industry facing severe staff shortages and high demand it seems unsustainable to only source employees from 50 per cent of the population.

For men to be successfully integrated into the child care workforce the industry needs to recognise the unique skills that men bring to child care work and not expect men to provide care in exactly the same way as their female counterparts.

One child care centre in NSW defies all the statistics and currently has five male child care workers in a team of 16. We spoke to this group of dedicated young men to find out what attracted them to child care and why they stick with it, despite the odds.
We also spoke to Centre Owner/Director Nesha O’Neil to find out how and why she has been so successful in recruiting and retaining her male employees.

Tom Isaacs (24), Benjamin Vengoa (21), Matthew Hochstetter (25), Bryn Williams (35) and Shaun Vengoa (20) all work at the Top Ryde Early Learning centre in NSW a centre responsible for 59 children each day.

Centre Owner/Director Nesha O’Neil says she values the input of male teachers and has actively sought to have at least one male staff member at all times.

“The idea that we wanted more men, led to us employing them. It also helps having a male on the team already so that new male staff feel more comfortable, and get the hang of it all easier,” she said.

Matthew Hochstetter has a background developing sports program for schools and holds a Diploma in Business Management a Diploma in Sports Management and is currently working towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Education.

He says he was attracted to child care due to his interest in working with children and sports:

“Child care gave me the opportunity to work on developing children’s skills through sports as well as providing children with a positive male role model,” he said.

Tom Isaac’s has always worked with kids and was a youth worker before he moved into child care:

“I’ve always been good with children and enjoyed my interactions with them. I thought that child care would be rewarding and fun,” he said.

Brothers Ben and Shaun Vengoa have strong sporting backgrounds and are both professional football players. Ben says he was drawn to child care because he loves kids and is a father-to-be while Shaun says he joined the centre because he is passionate about sport and wants to share his knowledge with children.

The guys identified suspicion as one of the main obstacles for men wanting to join the child care sector:

“I was warned a number of times that people would give me funny looks” said Tom.

“The unfortunate stereotypes that you are branded with when joining the child care industry are pretty off-putting” said Matthew.

Centre Director Nesha O’Neil is well aware of the prejudices some people have towards men in child care and proactively addresses the topic when parents first visit the centre.

“We actively promote the employment of men at the centre by putting them on our website, and in staff photos in the foyer.

We’ve had a few parents on tours who have seen the photos and said ‘oh, a male staff member’ and we’ve confidently said ‘yes, is that a problem?’ then described the many benefits of having a male on the team.”

Nesha says the best way of tackling these prejudices is to have strict operational policies and procedures.

“Having been in child care for many years, we are aware of the risks of employing men due to the suspicion that some parents have, however, we have policies and procedures that keep all of our staff safe for example, always stay in eye-sight of another staff member.

We’ve also made a decision that unless absolutely necessary, the guys won’t change nappies. Our female staff were more than happy to swap for less mopping/ sweeping!

The other way to manage parent issues is to get the guys talking to parents as quickly as possible: don’t hide them away – having a staff member walk confidently up to a parent and say ‘Hi I’m Matt’ and shake their hand is the quickest way to put parents at ease with any staff member – including men,” said Nesha.

As previously mentioned men bring different styles to child care and there are many advantages for both children and other staff members of running a staff with both genders represented.

For children without positive male role models at home having exposure to men like Matthew, Ben, Shaun and Tom is vital.

Matthew says the personal advantages of working in child care are that it has made him a more emotional man and a much more patient father but he says men contribute a lot to the sector

“Men add a different feel to the industry, Children are provided with different dynamics which I believe help in their personal development,” he said.

According to Ben, men also offer a different perspective on activities:

“Male carers can become ‘father figures’ and the children look up to them. They also get different reactions, responses and actions from the kids than female teachers even when doing the same activities or projects.”

Nesha says her male team members offer many advantages and give the centre a unique point of difference:

“The guys have a different perspective on the activities provided within our program. These boys are very fit and active, so lots of what we do incorporates an active component, for example we’re more likely to teach social skills through team sports now, whereas in the past with a team of women, we were more likely to teach social skills through role-play. This centre has a greater proportion of boys enrolled so this ‘active’ aspect to the program is a great benefit.

We also find that behaviour management is easier with our young boys, as the male staff members are able to role model for them and the boys identify easier with this.

In addition, the men have a great ‘halo’ effect; not only do the young boys see them as positive role models, but they see others viewing them as positive role models so the men end up with a ‘halo’ or ‘aura’ around them.

We’ve also had amazing results with some of our special needs children. In the past we’ve had female staff members with a string of academic post-grad qualifications attempt to implement a positive behaviour modification program, whereas the male staff members come in with that ‘halo’ effect, and in one session are able to achieve things with our special needs kids that we have been struggling with for months.

In addition, the males are able to relate to the fathers at the centre in a way that our female staff sometimes couldn’t.

They also have a great impact on the staff team dynamic – let’s face it, in an all female working environment, we can sometimes take a ‘school yard’ approach to dealing with issues. The guys sit outside’ of that dynamic, which diffuses a lot of those issues,” said Nesha.

Attracting men to child care
All the guys at Top Ryde say child care is a fulfilling job which offers males rich professional rewards.
“If you’re looking for a career child care is the most rewarding job you could have, knowing how much you have affected a kid’s life means a lot and seeing how much they look up to you and respect you is amazing,” says Shaun Vengoa.

According to Nesha child care services wanting to employ more men need to look at the work environment and think about how to make it more attractive and interesting to men.

Shaun agrees with that sentiment and suggests that child care centres might have more luck attracting men if they highlighted some of the more physical aspects of a child care job, by using titles such as sports coordinator.

Nesha says it’s important to gain the support of your whole team when looking to recruit more men as making the service an attractive place for men to work may require some changes.

“Years ago I worked for a company who were looking to recruit women into a mostly male workforce. It was really hard for the women, because once recruited, they’d go out onsite to find themselves in a really ‘blokey’ environment (pictures of semi naked women in the bathrooms etc).

I think that it’s easy for us in a mostly female environment to forget how alien it might be for men to walk into. It’s worth having someone’s partner walk through the place to see if they feel uncomfortable by the way it might be set up (e.g how many Twilight pictures are up on your walls?).

It’s also worth remembering that men tend to talk less about issues but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have issues and when things do come up men tend to want short sharp, effective solutions – not hours of debate.

You also need to actively decide that it’s what you REALLY want, that you’re prepared to change the way that you do some things, that you are prepared to have those difficult conversations with parents (no, they’re not all gay…and would it matter if they were?), and be prepared to work through the issues that arise in order to reap the rewards.

Then, share that decision as a team, talk about it, and once staff are committed to it, work towards it, for example by placing job ads which say ‘men are strongly encouraged to apply for this role’

Are you a man working in child care? If so go to CareforKids Social to tell us how you think the industry needs to change to attract more males.