At the same time as efforts rightly focus on getting more women in leadership positions and into male-dominated industries, there is also a movement to encourage more men into the careers dominated by women.
In particular, the caring professions are bereft of men. Early years teaching and nursery workers are almost exclusively female, as is nursing and the social care workforce.
This is despite the fact that vulnerable people sometimes request the same gender care for them because of the intimate nature of the relationship.
There is also a recognition for the need for more positive male role models in early education and youth work.
All of these professions also face staff shortages, which look to be exacerbated by an exodus of workers from the European Economic Area after Brexit.
Holyrood’s recent event, ‘Attracting men into the caring professions’, invited men from these areas to share their experience.
Kenny Spence, of peer support and training group Men in Childcare, argued that a workplace composed of both sexes contributes to widening children’s experience and can help reduce gender segregation in the labour market.
“Men aren’t coming to these professions, one, because they’re not invited,” he said. “There’s 120 primary schools in Fife where there is one or no men at all. Now that can’t be because all the men in Fife don’t want to go and work in education. It must be because we are not doing anything to recruit them.”
The conference found a number of parallels with nursing and social work too.
Stuart Brodie, lecturer in social work at Robert Gordon University, said: “One of the main issues for recruiting social work students has been combatting the myths perpetuated by guidance staff in schools.
“Now are there are many good guidance staff, but many will still tend to scare young people away from social work. We’re seen as a low-rank profession when in fact, I think we’re a high-status profession. They’ll direct people with low qualifications onto things like nursing, and direct the people with high qualifications elsewhere.”
For many of the men present, the caring professions have been their second career.
David Thomson, a social worker in Fife, said many male school leavers may not be mature enough to go into a career with caring responsibilities.
“When I look back, social work at the point when I was 17 would have not been for me at all. I wasn’t mature enough,” he said.
“I can understand why guidance teachers steer people away, it’s not for everyone at that age.
“I think it’s so important for men to be in our roles, because we need to show some good role models to a lot of the service users we work with.
“The team I work with is the women’s justice team, so it is women who are caught up in the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, a lot of their experiences of men in their world are abusive, the abuse of power, so there needs to be positive role models, and that’s what we try to do.”
Chair Morag Alexander OBE cited research from Nordic countries that shows men can bring different qualities to caring professions.
Nursing student Craig Davidson came into nursing as a second career after enjoying voluntary work as a nursing assistant. But he questioned why he had never considered it before, especially as his mother was a nurse.
“I believe we need more men in nursing because we should be as diverse and inclusive as the communities we serve,” he said.
Patient choice cannot be served when only ten per cent are men, he suggested.
“In personal care, a female patient will always be asked, if there is a male practitioner, if they mind. A male patient is very rarely granted the same choice. We can’t facilitate it.”
However, Davidson met some resistance to attempts to bring more men into nursing because although only one in ten nurses is male, they are far more likely to hold senior positions and be better paid.
“There is a massive inequity of men at senior management and professorial level in nursing,” he said. “That has caused a massive pushback to the men in nursing drive. I spoke at RCN congress this year about men in nursing … and it was shot down in flames for that very reason.
“So we need to tackle attracting men into nursing and addressing the problem at the top. They need to be combined together or it is not going to work.”
But when patients frequently mistake Davidson for a doctor and ask why he would want to be a nurse instead, societal stereotype-led perceptions could be the toughest nut to crack.
Angela Vettriano, who works with government scheme ‘Developing the Young Workforce’ in Dundee and Angus, said interventions needed to be made much earlier, going into schools in the early years of primary school with positive role models for both boys and girls.
“If they see it, they think they can be it,” she said.
But if a sign of the scale of the challenge was needed, the first question asked of the men by delegates was how they dealt with perceptions of men as riskier when it comes to working with children and vulnerable people.
The issue was something many of the men present said they had been aware of in their careers, and had taken steps to protect themselves, especially when dealing with intimate caring such as toileting and changing nappies.
Peter Young of Turning Point Scotland is a registered social care nurse. He said “unpicking” the issue would be the biggest challenge. “The challenge is it is an inescapable thing that when bad things happen there is a huge percentage of those bad things [that] are done by men,” he said.
Spence expressed disappointment that the issue had been raised before any other on the day.
“If you’re on nappies, it’s the worst job in the building,” he said. “Fathers change their children. It is a normal thing to do.”