06 March, 2023 | Posted by Michelle Hogan

International Women's Day: Dr Nóirín Hayes on how to #EmbraceEquity in Early Years

International Women's Day: Dr Nóirín Hayes on how to #EmbraceEquity in Early Years

The theme of International Women’s Day 2023 is #EmbraceEquity.

Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities.

Equity recognises that each person has different circumstances, and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. 

To celebrate and support International Women's Day 2023, Portobello Institute is sharing inspiring insights from women who follow their passion to fulfil their potential as they share their experiences with embracing equity.

Introducing Dr Nóirín Hayes 

I am Visiting Professor at the School of Education, Trinity College Dublin and Professor Emerita, Technological University Dublin. Working within a bio-ecological framework of development and through a child rights lens I teach and research in early childhood education and care [ECEC] with a particular focus on early learning, curriculum and pedagogy and ECEC policy. I am the convener of the Researching Early Childhood Education Collaborative [RECEC] at Trinity College and am OMEP (Ireland) Champion and Advocate for Early Childhood Education and Care [2022 – 25]. 

What does International Women’s Day mean for you? 

As with many celebratory events I find myself drawn to the historical beginnings to understand contemporary understandings. The history of International Women’s Day arose from the ambition of women themselves [initially in the US] to fight for their rights and grew from anger at the exploitation of women in certain employments.

From its more coordinated beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, it developed a wider vision and its aims achieved recognition by the UN with the creation of an International Day - ‘a day when women are recognised for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political’ [https://www.un.org/en/observances/womens-day/background].  

While I welcome the celebration and recognition of women, I am conscious that a single-day event will not, of itself, change things.

I would like to see the talents and achievements of women acknowledged for what they are and what they contribute at all times in all walks of life. I hope that days such as International Women’s Day awaken in people the need to actively pursue the achievement of human rights for all.

The word equity is defined as “the quality of being fair or impartial; fairness; impartiality” or “something that is fair and just.” What does embracing equity mean to you? 

I have always preferred the term equity to equality and am delighted to see it highlighted on International Women’s Day 2023.  As noted above equity is more than equality – it is a fundamental understanding of the value of fairness and impartiality and a challenge that requires us to accept and respect difference and diversity by, among other things, recognising that we are all different and diverse from each other.   

Embracing equity requires ongoing work. It is unlike equality, where you can almost create a checklist of aspects of equality to mark as achieved; to achieve and maintain equity in every new situation requires an awareness, a bringing to consciousness the context of action. I think it is an important concept because it keeps us all ‘on our toes’ in all aspects of rights and responsibilities at all times.

How do you think embracing equity can support women in the early years sector?  

There are a number of ways in which this question could be answered and it would require a deeper dive into history than can be given here!

Simply put, I believe that the image and role of women is, in our society, so determinedly linked to the role of mothering and sustenance that all caring roles are seen as a natural feature of womanhood and therefore can be praised as important but not necessarily seen or treated in terms of profession. This was the case for nurses and teachers in the past and perhaps we can learn from their histories.  

The challenge of embracing equity in respect of women working in early childhood is that it requires a collective, society-level understanding of the two dimensions of the work:  

  • the importance and complexity of working developmentally and educationally with young children [Early Childhood Education and Care]  
  • acknowledging the importance of the early childhood system to society's overall functioning [Childcare].  

These two dimensions both need to be recognised as crucial contributions to the social good and, framed in this way, the important contributions of those working in early childhood need to be fairly and justly acknowledged.

Have you ever faced a situation in your life or career that was not fair, impartial or just? How did you overcome the challenge of this? 

Having lived a long life across a rapidly changing social environment I have indeed experienced unjust and unfair situations.

In general, my response has been to call them out where possible or try to change from within the structures which perpetuate unfairness. There is no one event or occurrence that comes to mind and it has not always been an injustice to myself that has led me to action. 

One action – ongoing really – has been to raise awareness around the whole issue of children’s rights and the rights of our youngest children in particular.

At the time of the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, there was very little government action and, along with a number of colleagues and organisations, I was involved in the establishment of the Children's Rights Alliance.

In general, I think the best way to move towards equity is to talk about it, expect it and seek it out. 

In the context of your career, how do you embrace equity to fulfil your potential? 

In all my roles I have tried to be fair in my dealings with colleagues and peers. I believe that it is important to model fairness if you are expecting it from others.

It can be challenging to achieve a balance between realising equity and leadership when in a leadership position. For instance, it is important to consider what equity means in situations of tension or conflict … I have always found it useful to talk in confidence with ‘critical friends’ where difficulties arise. 

Has a person or organisation ever embraced equity to support you? What did they do and how did it support you? 

I have never felt alone in having to address an unfair or unjust decision or action.

In my work I have had to argue over certain inequities which I felt needed correction and, in general, my colleagues have been prepared to support me and – in some cases – we did change things.

Sometimes it is necessary to seek outside support and one needs to be confident and well-informed to make such situations work.

In an early years work environment, what do you think can be done to embrace equity to allow people to follow their passion and fulfil their potential? 

This question is, by its nature, context-bound and I find it difficult to answer in any depth. When you look at the principles behind the equity concept you find guidance in how best to embrace and enact it.

Leadership modelling and support are crucial to creating and maintaining an equitable and inclusive working environment but this needs to be happening within a community and societal context which is equitable and supportive.

Within early childhood settings those working directly with children [and their parents] need to be aware of, and believe in, the principles of equitable behaviour and, as team members, work together to create learning environments and practices which both model and expect such behaviour.

It could be argued that the grounding for democratic practice, essential to a democracy, begins with children’s earliest learning environments.  

What are you passionate about? 

In simple terms, I am passionate about enhancing the life chances of young children from all walks of life in environments – home and setting-based – that are calm and happy places where children are respected and loved and feel they belong. Fortunately, I have been able to link my passion with a career that has lasted decades.  

How do you follow your passion? 

It is my belief that those working directly with young children – home and setting based – are the architects of learning environments that have a profound impact on children and that can influence the direction of their development and learning.  

Through providing environments that are at once calm and challenging, safe and risky, language rich and respectful of silence early childhood educators fulfil a complex multiplicity of roles.

To follow my passion, I became involved in the education and support of those who work directly with young children by developing and teaching on programmes, both college and CPD. I have also advocated for greater respect for professionals working in early childhood [a unique level of education in children’s educational journey], significantly more investment in early childhood services and fairer remuneration for those working there. The work continues ...   

How do you believe we can encourage and support more people to follow their passion and fulfil their potential? 

Not all passions translate into a viable career – but passions can give meaning to life. In the context of early childhood, we have the luxury of observing young children as they explore their world and come to understand it and their place in it. We can, through our understanding and our observations identify children’s interests and build on them to guide children towards realistic self-belief, a skill which will support them as they realise their potential and find their life passion.

One of the missions of International Women’s Day is ‘Women at Work’ which aims to forge inclusive work cultures where women's careers thrive and their achievements are celebrated. How do you think this can be applied within the early years sector? 

It is the irony of early childhood education and care as a career that it is the work of women [in the main] and is there, in large part, to support other women [in the main] in their work while caring for and educating the children of the latter group. 

I have always found it hard to understand why society – and women in particular- seem so reluctant to take up the cause of fairness and justice in respect of early childhood educators so that they, as workers, are respected as professionals filling a complex role and can be paid accordingly. 

International Women's Day Webinar with Portobello Institute

Portobello Institute is delighted to celebrate International Women's Day 2023 and support this year's theme of #EmbraceEquity

The webinar, led by Dr Danielle Prescott, will take place on Wednesday, 8th March '23 from 7 pm - 8.30 pm. You can register for the webinar here.

We invite you to this webinar with three industry practitioners from the world of elite sports who will discuss their experiences and the importance of embracing equity when it came to being successful in their chosen careers.

Screenshot 2023-03-01 at 11.00.47

IWD Webinar (640 × 476px)

Register for our International Women's Day webinar here.

Read More: International Women's Day 2023 Will #EmbraceEquity For A Better World

Read More: Dr Judith Butler on how to #EmbraceEquity in Early Years and Follow Your Passion

Read More: Mary Kate Murphy on Embracing Equity for Women in Facilities and Workplace Management


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