"They deserve people who are committed and engaged": Gender, class and survival in early childhood work

Yarrow Andrew, Jessie Jovanovic, Zi Wong

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Early childhood work is widely acknowledged as poorly paid and emotionally demanding, with little public recognition from wider society about its complexity and importance. Nonetheless, this lack of recognition, in both economic and cultural terms, appears to be taken-for-granted, with little effort by governments or employer groups to improve the situation. The Workplace Worth and Wellbeing project (WWW) is a multiple methods study of the early childhood workforce across two Australian jurisdictions, drawing on feminist and Bourdieusian theoretical frameworks to examine the reasons for this tacit acceptance of low-valued work. Our broader project connects researchers across different national systems, to explore the varying mechanisms behind this acceptance within specific contexts (Andrew, Corr et al., 2016), building on feminist economic research highlighting the specifically gendered and classed devaluations that seem to be at work.This presentation highlights qualitative data from this project, driven by insights from the findings from the quantitative data collected, which demonstrated the ways that commitment by workers themselves was having an insulating effect on their wellbeing. In this presentation, we look at some of the specific stories behind these findings, showing participants keen understanding of the dilemmas of the work, and their insight into the impacts it often has on their wellbeing and work-life balance. Despite the challenges they routinely face, and the lack of recognition many have experienced, often across a lifetime of work, they persist because this work remains important. In a world where most parents have to work, and so many children need non-parental care, committed and engaged adults are needed who will do this work willingly and with a deep concern for children.Educators describe their genuine affection for children, and the intellectual satisfaction they gain from the complexities of teaching young children, as they emerge into language and curiosity. This is not an accidental, or a 'natural' disposition, we argue, but a form of emotional labour in itself (Monrad, 2017). When work you know to be valuable is systematically devalued or trivialised, over decades of working life, then it takes effort to keep seeing the worth in it. This is a form of resilience - a commitment to the intrinsic worth of this work (Skeggs, 2004), in the absence of more traditional routes to recognition. Participants also acknowledge the many challenges in staying motivated but have found ways to exercise agency within the constraints of the work, gaining self-respect and pride through these efforts. Educators' commitment is not a panacea, and certainly not an excuse for continued blindness to this ongoing problem. Burnout is real (Jovanovic, 2013), and participants acknowledged their own moments of disillusion and adversity.Governments are taking advantage of the continuing systemic sexism within many workplaces, constraining the less privileged into lower paid types of work. The forms of commitment and tenacity we highlight are gendered and classed dispositions, the product of particular locations in social space which allow little distance from necessity, but seek meaning and purpose, regardless.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2018
Event10th Biennial Gender, Work & Organisation Conference - Hyatt Regency, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 13 Jun 201816 Jun 2018


Conference10th Biennial Gender, Work & Organisation Conference
Abbreviated titleGWO2018


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