The W Factor: In Praise of the Nursery Practitioner; Ordinary Women doing Extraordinary Things

March 2nd 2015

On the 8th of March we celebrate International Women’s Day which is increasingly turning into a month. In London, the WOW (Women of the World) festival shines a light on women as leaders, campaigners, artists, entertainers and everything in between. The whole sisterhood issue comes under the modern spotlight and the new debates as to what feminism means in 2015 will be aired.

My view of feminism has evolved from the early days of Betty Friedan , Simone de Beauvoir, Claire Bretecher and  “Reclaim the Night” marches across London to my avid reading of Spare Rib and all things Virago. Since then, my feminist philosophy has morphed more in support and praise of the ordinary women doing extraordinary things across the world in order to respond to the challenges of lack of education for girls, unemployment, zero contract hours, childcare support, old age poverty, the misogynistic music world, domestic violence and abuse against women in all its forms. Issues such as Page Three of the Sun, the quotas of Women on Boards or Harriet Harman’s Pink Bus matter less when 15million girls are not educated despite us knowing that when mothers are educated their children’s life chances improve hugely.

As a female leader of a childcare business which employs mostly women to care for and educate small children, with mostly women customers, I feel obligated to do the best I can to give them the most opportunities. This includes my attempts to support the involvement of men (staff and fathers) in order for children to see that the world has men and women in it who can work well together. This was the rationale for the London Network of Men in Childcare.

However, while I might be proud of what we do at LEYF and see this in the happiness of children and families (well mostly, although we do get things wrong) the rest of the world doesn’t always see it.  Yet did you know that to run a nursery you need to understand :

  • Children
  • Parent’s needs
  • Role of women
  • Social Policy implication
  • Child poverty
  • Role of education
  • Managing teams
  • Sustainability
  • Team motivation
  • Growth strategy
  • Social Impact
  • Finance and investment
  • Political influence
  • International research

Despite this, the stereotype of the nursery staff member is ‘nice but dim!’ In the sector we often refer to it as the hair or care dilemma!  My hairdresser Vas (who is an Arts graduate) always gets upset by this too! The public rarely sees the ordinary turned into extraordinary. They take it for granted and so only the failures, the disappointments, the inadequacies are highlighted. Sadly, often aggravated by mothers who transfer the guilt and self-reproach poured on them by society for working and leaving their children in a nursery. It’s an unhelpful cycle of blame which ignores the reality of most women’s economic circumstances.

Everyday children attend nursery and nursery staff, although low paid and low status, give their all. According to the Labour Force Survey the highest contributors to the unpaid overtime are teachers and I certainly include those in nurseries who give 110% as a matter of course. We are rarely thanked for it and instead are shaped into a lowly educated powerless playdough blob. In fact what we need are smart women journalists to back us and help translate the complexity of what we do.

Last year, I was voted the Social Enterprise Women’s Champion. I was very overwhelmed as I did not see myself in that light but maybe my small attempts to bring women together, to share a voice, to celebrate the ordinary and to raise the issues of leading a women focused business is what we need to do more coherently and loudly.  We need to do it for all nursery staff and those of the future like our apprentices.

Let’s start the W Factor, a celebration of ordinary women doing extraordinary things and celebrate by accepting my invitation to this event.