If you were to enter a care home, respite centre or the like, you often wouldn’t be too surprised to find the vast majority of staff being female.

Many men tend not pursue careers in the industry, which is often attributed to a number of social and economic factors and beliefs, such as the stigma that caring for others is more of a role suited for women, and that working in the sector is not seen as ‘real’ job for men.

However, there is evidence that this disparity is slowly disappearing.

A slow but steady change

Change has been seen largely through the use of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS); a government scheme that supports Australians with disabilities so they can be better prepared as they get older as they require services such as respite and home care.

According to care provider Peter Scutt, many clients are now searching based on gender so they can have staff they are more likely to relate to and perceive as role models.

“For men, it was never seen as a valued role and it was typically left to women to do these caring roles, and it’s important for people to find the right care worker,” Scutt said.

“The workforce was built on a model of providing care and support but the service option was limited. We’re giving NDIS participants purchasing power and they’re going to demand a male.”

Mr Scutt says the desire for male workers is also particularly prominent in young people with disabilities who are registered on the National Disability Insurance Scheme:

“A 17-year-old doesn’t want care from a woman who reminds him of his mum, he might want someone he shares interests with.”

Flexible models

But it’s not just the NDIS that shows evidence of change. The latest figures published by the National Aged Care Workforce Census shows that since 2012, the number of male staff working in aged care related work has increased from 10 to 13 percent.

While small, it is what many believe to be an important step and hopefully an indication of a breakdown in stigmas and stereotypes surrounding the field.

Mr Scutt says this change is also due to the flexibility that many men are now able to take advantage of, such as many social services on offer, as well as care roles that do not require TAFE qualifications.

Sociologist Debra King from Flinders University says that this newfound flexibility allows men to take on roles in the care sector that they typically would not be able to before.

She says that before, many men often would work with difficult or violent clients as they were seen to have more authority, but as views have changed, women are now seen as being able to cope with difficult clients just as well, leaving more options available to men who want them.

“Quite often men were able to carve out a niche in aged care,” King said.

 “They would often have men they were looking after or looked after people with behavioural difficulties. Some clients can be quite violent. They were perceived as having more authority if they had a patient who was difficult and needed authority.”

More still needs to be done to help bring in more men to the care sector, but these small changes are hopefully a sign of greater change to come.