Challenging gender inequality is not just about actively campaigning against negative incidents, through movements like Times Up or #MeToo; in the UK we face a different type of challenge: redefining stereotypical roles in the care industry.
Currently, a quarter of young men claim that they wouldn’t think of becoming a care worker, but the industry desperately needs them to rethink. It’s no secret that there’s a vast shortage of care workers across the UK with vacancy rates of 5.1% and a dependency of at-risk migrant staff post-Brexit; however the lack of men specifically is becoming more and more noticeable. Men make up only 16% of the current care workforce, despite their natural strength being suited to the physical aspects of the job.
Residents in care homes are more likely to prefer a care worker of the same sex to them, which traditionally was less of an issue as women lived longer and more women tended to work in the care industry. A marriage of convenience, but successful nonetheless. However, male life expectancy is going up and consequently there’s been an increase of 15.2% in the number of male residents in care homes aged 65 or more. Now more than ever, we need male care workers across the board. Elderly men have stated that they feel more comfortable and less embarrassed when they are washed by a man; so shouldn’t we be actively working to save our fathers, grandfathers, uncles and friends whatever shame we can?
While the Department of Health is not trying to encourage women not to become carers, there’s an undeniable push for men to consider the profession. Hesitation stems from the prehistoric perception of care as “a woman’s job”; that men are not supposed to be in positions of care and nurture. This notion perpetuates the current crisis of toxic masculinity, where the narrow descriptions of what it means to be a man are harmful to men themselves and the wider society. Men have all the same emotional, physical and psychological capabilities for the job as women; and yet they face an unspoken stigma in this industry. Once they defy this perception though and enter the industry, men immediately feel such satisfaction in their jobs and feel a sense of inclusion and community not often felt in the modern workplace.
Working with older people in care homes or helping young people through times of crisis can be one of the most rewarding experiences a person can undertake, and as a nation it needs to be recognised that these benefits are exactly the same for both men and women. Policies for change need to be instigated from the top down, with the government encouraging men to enter this profession through training programmes or work experience opportunities for school leavers. By teaching our young men the joy they can feel as a care worker or the fun they can have as a part of this community, slowly we can work to redefine what a care worker looks like to be a list of characteristics, not a gender.