“Pay and conditions are so poor compared to Primary School Teachers or SNAs,” an early years childcare worker tell us. Katie Barr reports:

Gender balance, employment equality, gender inclusion, these are all buzz terms we are all too familiar with in Ireland in 2022, thankfully.
Children are taught that girls can do everything boys can do and vice versa. In the workplace women are encouraged to aim as high as possible achieving everything and more of the male counterparts.

However, it would seem that there is one sector that is far behind the scale in terms of gender equality – the early years childcare sector.
In 1996 the European Commission Network on Childcare set a target for a male participation rate in the sector to be set at a rate of 20 per cent by 2020. However in Ireland, in 2022, the true figure for the number working in the early years childcare sector is believed to be about one per cent.

Childcare, it would seem, is still very much seen as a ‘women’s job’ in Ireland. And it is not just Ireland. In the UK, it is also a female-dominated workforce where only approximately three percent of childcare workers are male. Even in countries who are applauded for gender equality like Norway, 10 percent of their early years workers are male. Social stereotypes, it would seem, are the hardest to overcome.

The benefits of having more men working with our young children are evident and well documented. But why is the job consistently regarded as female’s profession?
In Donegal one inspiring young man is hoping to break that mould for the next generation of male childcare workers.

In 2020 Darragh McGrath graduated from Letterkenny Institute of Technology with a first class honours degree in Childcare. He works fulltime in Newtowncunningham Playgroup in North Donegal, but Darragh is in the minority.
The numbers of men working in the childcare sector in Donegal is extremely low with Darragh being one of only two males to graduate in Childcare in LYIT that year.
But with some outdated attitudes still lingering within the community and pay and conditions for early years staff still far behind the level they should be, it’s hard to see any real changes coming in the immediate future.

“When I started working here, people asked me what was I doing? They asked was I cutting the grass and doing maintenance. I think they thought I was the caretaker,” said Darragh.
“I think there is still a level of fear that men will be laughed at or looked down on for working here, some people would have made comments to me, but it never bothered me.
“But I was very clear that I was working with the children. This is my dream job – I love working here and working with the children and seeing them progress. I would stay forever if I could but it might not always be realistic.
“Pay and conditions are so poor compared to Primary School Teachers or even SNAs – even during the summer months I have to sign on the dole as you don’t get paid over holidays.”

However that being said, Darragh is fully committed to his job and has received great support from his fellow childcare workers in Newtowncunningham and during his time at LYIT:

“My experience has been so positive, I have great support here and when I was at college – they loved to see men doing the course. I never had an issue with any of the parents – everyone has been so welcoming. It is the most fulfilling job.”

One of the benefits of having gender balance in the playgroup has been the support he has provided for children of lone parents.
“I have noticed that some of the children who have just mum in their life can gravitate towards more, and that’s lovely that I can provide a male influence at a young age. It is very rewarding, and I think it would be very hard for someone to walk away once they start,” he said.

• Sean Carroll, Pauline Coyle, CE supervisor and Caroline Borden, manager of Bocan Creche.

Pauline Coyle, who supervises the Community Employment Childcare Scheme from Inishowen Development Partnership [IDP] on behalf of the Department of Social Protection, hopes there will be changes to this in the near future.
“I think the Government will step in and improve working conditions in the early years sector. These people do such important, good work and they deserve to be paid in a way that reflects their hard work and dedication. It is shocking that young, highly educated people such as Darragh still have to apply for Jobseekers during the summer holidays,” said Pauline.

Pauline said everyone in IDP would encourage more men to follow a career in childcare and she believes the CE scheme could be “a great place for anyone, who has been unemployed for 12 months or more, to get involved in the sector”.
“The great thing about the CE scheme is that you get hands-on experience and your accredited training is fully covered. The new module that has been recently developed leads to an even more professional specific qualification so it would give anyone – man or woman – a great opportunity to gain a high level qualification in childcare,” she added.

Caroline Borden, Manager of Bocan Community Creche, said she would love to see more men coming through the door.
“We have had a small number of male workers over the years and we have one [Sean Carroll] at present,” explained Caroline.
“But I think society still states that the man is to be the breadwinner in the house and working in a preschool from 9am until 1pm doesn’t suit the majority of men.
“The men that are coming in the sector at present are breaking the mould for the next group of men coming behind them. Hopefully we will continue to see more men like Sean coming in – everyone will be treated equally here,” she said.