How to recruit more men?

It’s not accidental that some municipalities succeed in recruiting more men to their kindergartens than others, according to a Swedish researcher.

Text: SIW ELLEN JAKOBSEN / TRANSLATION: HANNE HERRMAN

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In our neighbour country, Sweden, only 4 percent of the staff in kindergartens are men. It has been like this for many years. The proportion of men has neither increased nor decreased.

In comparison around 10 percent of the staff are men in Norwegian kindergartens.

The Swedish researcher Mia Heikkilä has for many years been interested in the gender balance in kindergartens and schools. Some years ago, she was engaged by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions to follow the work to increase the proportion of men in seven municipalities’ kindergartens. The municipalities were spread all over Sweden.

In Sweden it’s compulsory either to have a pedagogical education or a broad experience to be admitted working in a kindergarten.

SMALL AND BIG MUNICIPALITIES PARTICIPATED IN THE STUDY

Heikkilä’s core question was the following: How are Swedish municipalities working to recruit more men?

In order to find a question to the answer, she attended many meetings. In addition, she interviewed key persons in the participating municipalities. These key persons, who had established a common network together, were kindergarten teachers, head teachers, and leaders from the municipal administration.

The participating municipalities were both big and small, but it was not the size of them that eventually turned out to be decisive for the recruitment.

NO COINCIDENCE THAT SOME DID SUCCEED

Now Heikkilä can tell why some succeeded and others didn’t in their efforts to recruit more men.

The municipalities that eventually employed more men, had organized the recruitment work well on a municipal level. Motivated people from the municipality were brought in to work particularly with this question. In addition, they had defined goals for their work.

The researcher says knowledge is important, but even more important is the organization of the recruitment work by the municipality.

“Those who didn’t elaborate a strategy on a municipal level, experienced bigger problems getting on with the work,” she says.

“The strategy must be elaborated either locally or nationally. You have to make goals to achieve results.”

If we want change, we have to work systematically to obtain it.”

SOME OF THEM HAD A SUPERFICIAL MOTIVATION

Heikkilä believes the municipalities that did organize the work well, also had reflected upon why more men ought to work in the kindergarten. She also noticed that the staff in the kindergartens weren’t as concerned by the issue as the leaders in the municipalities.

“Some of the staff probably had a quite superficial motivation all though they were tasked to work with it. I suppose they want a better gender balance but after all maybe it’s not so important to them.”

In other kindergartens, she found that the head teachers had a more thorough view on gender balance. They also had more knowledge about gender and equality. Here the staff was aware of the quality and the value it represented to the children to meet both men and women in their everyday life.

To conclude the most important result from Heikkilä’s research according to herself is: Nothing happens by itself.

“If we want change, then we have to work systematically to get it. If we want more men to work in the kindergartens, we need knowledge, strategies and goals to get what we want. I saw this very clearly. And the municipalities which worked like this succeeded.”

NORMS ABOUT MASCULINITY

The Swedish researcher is highly interested in the issue of femininity and masculinity in the kindergarten. And she sees a big difference between Norway and Sweden. Generally speaking, she believes that the norms connected to femininity and masculinity represent the most important obstacle to get more men to work in kindergartens.

“I am convinced that more men would like to work in kindergartens or in health and care professions,” says Heikkilä.

“But these educations are still closely associated with a stereotypic conception of femininity. And the idea that men and women ought to work with different things is still well anchored in our consciousness,” she says.

According to her the most common reason for recruiting more men is the argument of difference between the sexes, and that men represent a different gender identity for the kids. In Sweden you could never argue in such a way, because it’s not acceptable to claim that there exists such difference.

In Norway, many people have an idea about men; that they want to be “masculine” kindergarten teachers. But that is not true. I have done another study of men getting educated to work as kindergarten teachers in Sweden, and none of them nurtured any wish to be masculine role models for the children. They wanted to work there as teachers, to be the person they were, not to play football or carpentry.