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In an ideal world, early childhood education advocates wouldn’t need strategies for building respect for the profession. We wouldn’t need to develop arguments for why pre-K educators deserve better pay and working conditions — the country would just accept this as fact and make it happen.

Yet, the reality is we must redouble our efforts to convince the country to create better working conditions for those who serve in early education roles.

The pandemic made the situation more acute: The U.S. has roughly 80,000 fewer child care workers since the pandemic started, a loss of 7.5 percent, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

We believe that part of the solution to the workforce dilemma is higher pay. One way to foster higher pay is by recruiting more men to the field.

Nationwide, only 1.2 percent of early childhood and kindergarten teachers are men, according to MenTeach. We see this phenomenon in our efforts to promote the Child Development Associate credential, which is now widely recognized in early childhood education and is based on a core set of competency standards. Such standards guide early childhood professionals toward becoming qualified educators of young children.

Wages tend to increase after men enter jobs dominated by women.

The BLS says that industry and occupational segregation — through which women are overrepresented in certain jobs and industries and underrepresented in others — leads to lower pay for women and contributes to the overall gender wage gap. Its data also shows that “jobs such as child care workers, domestic workers and home health aides are mostly held by women, and all of these roles pay below average wages.” Women-dominated jobs like these (“pink collar jobs”) are less likely to include benefits than jobs predominately held by men.

Academic research has also found “substantial evidence” that the proportion of females in an occupation affects pay because we as a society don’t value work done by women. Fast Company stated that while “female-dominated jobs merit better wages regardless of men’s entrance, men’s participation in these jobs may enhance the job’s status and economic value.”

Indeed, research has shown that wages tend to increase after men enter jobs dominated by women, potentially because employers may more highly value the work that men do or more readily accept men’s negotiations for higher wages.

Related: Finding child care is still impossible for many parents

Thirty years ago, I began my own professional journey as a preschool teacher. It wasn’t my original plan, but I pursued the opportunity based on a suggestion from a family member working in the field. Her connection made the opportunity seem more plausible to me, despite starting as a low-paid teacher aide. At that time in my life, I was surrounded by strong, accomplished women who were early educators; I believe this helped me persist in a field where few men enter and stay.

The school enrolled me in a Child Development Associate credential program, which led me to learning everything I could about how children learn and grow.

Later, in my doctorial research for “The Sociological Factors That Affect the Retention of Male Early Childhood Teachers,” I reviewed the exit interviews of male teachers who left teaching. A majority of them did so for higher-paying fields. Other studies have also indicated that men are not as interested in the early childhood education sector due to lack of status, salary and benefits.

Hence, bringing more men into the profession could create a dynamic in which pay increases, helping bring more men into the profession, which further increases pay and benefits.

Related: Help us track child care challenges

Beyond the theory that recruiting more men to the sector will increase overall wages and the status of the profession, there are other benefits to such a diversified workforce. In a survey of members of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 97 percent responded that it’s important for young children to know caring, loving men and have positive male role models.

In addition, men and women should share equally in caring for young children. We also know that the presence of male teachers often makes fathers feel more welcome and encourages them to become more involved. The more males in the child care center, the more likely we can draw men to parent meetings, teacher conferences and field trips.

Another small part of the way to address the lack of men in the field is by recognizing and praising men currently involved in early childhood education. We are planning to convene male educators to discuss topics like male teacher retention and early childhood education fatherhood initiatives. We are sharing the lessons we’ve learned with those in like-minded organizations in order to highlight the importance of bringing men to and keeping them in early childhood education. We’re doing our part. But we are just beginning.

Calvin Moore Jr. is CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition.

This story about men in early childhood education was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.

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