You might think that calling a childcare agency after the less popular, male version of a nanny is crazy but it might also be a stroke of genius. Manny & Me is trying to disrupt the female-dominated childcare industry and address some of the gender imbalances in this sector – but this isn’t their only mission, in fact it’s not even their main mission.

Started in 2016 by James McCrossen and Jamie Leith, both experienced mannies and primary school teachers, Manny & Me is the first childcare agency in London to combine both childcare and education. All of their mannies and nannies have had teaching experience and some are fully qualified teachers, the aim is to make it easier for working parents to find and arrange convenient and affordable childcare that suits their lives.

As well as working privately with families, they are now talking to major corporate and creative businesses that have strong diversity, wellbeing, and inclusion agendas alongside a workforce of dedicated parents, to offer a scheme that takes childcare in-house during the hardest times for most parents: school holidays.

We spoke to James McCrossen about the idea and why he thinks it’s so important to get more men into childcare.

D.A.D: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
JM: Jamie and I both come from a primary teaching background. Before this, I worked in sport, coaching both tennis and football, and then went into the primary sector as a teaching assistant and then a teacher. I also spent nine years working as a manny. Jamie worked in the art industry for a few years after graduating and then made the transition into teaching, working as a primary school teacher in North London.

D.A.D: Manny & Me is a really innovative and progressive sounding business. How and why did you come up with the idea? 
JM: I think the idea came about from my experiences working as a manny and seeing how there was such a shortage of males. Primary education is heavily dominated by females and kids have a lack of male role models so we hoped that by starting an agency that promoted the role of the manny we would begin to tackle this problem.

D.A.D: How has the reaction been from families to the idea of having a manny instead of a nanny?
JM: The reaction has been brilliant and we have been getting a constant stream of requests since we began last year. At first the requests were from families with all boys but recently we’ve been getting a far greater variety. I guess for us, the hardest nut to crack was going to be families with really young kids and babies but we’ve even been getting requests from them. It wasn’t that long ago that a family contacted us who had twin girls aged three months; for us this was amazing, it showed that parents didn’t mind if the carer was male or female.

D.A.D: Have you struggled to find enough suitable candidates for mannies?
JM: Finding mannies has gone through waves. Sometimes we have many candidates applying and then other times we have very few. I think that many male child carers still see this as an industry that is hard to pursue due to the gender stereotypes that surround it. I’ve seen the same thing happen when I was teaching – most men tend to work with older kids.

We will continue to promote the role of male nanny and hopefully more and more men will see this is a great way to work with kids.

D.A.D: What did you personally take away from your experience as a manny?
JM: I think having been a manny before has really helped when working with both the families and the child carers. Having worked for nine years, I have gained so much experience and love having the opportunity to share my knowledge with others. I had such a fantastic time working as a manny and really feel it’s a great way to work closely with kids. I don’t have any myself but I’m hoping all the insight I’ve gained will put me in a great position to bring up my own once I do.

D.A.D: Why do you think it’s so important to combine childcare with education?
JM: Being a teacher, my natural instinct with kids is to seek learning opportunities. I saw how important it was to make every experience a learning experience. Kids are naturally curious and will ask hundreds of questions, so it’s important to make the most of these situations.

Learning should be constant and having an individual who can help promote that is extremely beneficial.

D.A.D: There’s a clear shortage of male teachers in early childhood education. Why do you think this is and is there a way to attract more men to these roles?
JM: I think an important comparison to make is the number of male teachers in primary schools and secondary schools. There are actually a lot of men in teaching but the majority are at secondary school level. I think this is because of the stereotypes that have built up over time that suggest that women are more suited to younger kids who need a caring environment and men more suited for the older ones that need discipline.

I worked in a school as a teaching assistant when I first moved to London and I was the only male in the whole school. At Manny & Me we are hoping to tackle similar stereotypes and it seems like we’re having some success. Hopefully some of the great mannies we take on will go into primary teaching in the future.

D.A.D: Have there been any comedy moments during your time as a manny or teacher that you can share with us?
JM: Working with kids always brings up comedy moments, that’s why I love it so much. As a teacher, you are constantly having to perform which often leads to funny moments.

The first school I worked in had something called “Wake Up, Shake Up” which happened every morning with one teacher leading the whole school in a dance to several pop songs. All the teachers and kids would stand up and dance whilst music was played out of the speakers to get everyone energised for the day ahead. After a few weeks, the lead teacher asked the kids if they wanted someone else to lead it and they all shouted “MR. MCCROSSEN”.

Bear in mind, I was the only male teacher so I think the thought of me dancing and making a fool of myself got everyone very excited.

When I got up I had to choose a song that I knew and then lead the whole school in the dance. Complete with my head piece and dancing shoes, I lead the school in my rendition of the Macarena. Traditionally it would just be the teaching assistants in the hall but when I performed all the teachers and office staff would come down to laugh; this became a regular occurrence.

D.A.D: What’s the process for families looking for a manny or nanny with you? And likewise for men and women that are interested in being mannies or nannies?
JM: Families can either give us a call or send an enquiry email outlining what they are looking for. Then one of the members of our team will contact them to gain a better insight of the position and to get to know the family better. Once this is done we have a look at which candidates we have available and we contact them to inform them of the position. If it’s a good fit, we go ahead and send over their CV to the family along with a few others. Families then make a choice and continue to the interview process.

For mannies and nannies, they need to send their CVs into us and then we shortlist those that display certain skills sets and experience, and invite them for an interview. The interview is a great chance for us to get to know the candidate and ask questions about their previous experiences in childcare and education. If they impress, we go through a registration process which includes a strict vetting process with reference and DBS checks. Once all of this is complete, they can officially begin working for Manny & Me.

D.A.D: What’s the most important piece of advice that you’d give to a family who are looking at childcare options?
JM: I have two pieces of advice for parents: don’t be afraid to hire a male nanny and don’t be afraid to hire someone who hasn’t been a manny before. When I began working as a manny I was only 22 with no experience in this particular role. I was thrown in the deep end with four kids to look after and had to learn quickly. I then went on to work for the same family for nine years. I guess my point is that most men haven’t considered this role before and therefore have no experience as a manny. What they do have though is a whole range of experience in other areas of childcare and the right skill set to be a manny. It can be greatly rewarding having a manny and parents shouldn’t be afraid to employ one.

Find out more about Manny & Me here.

Illustrations and animations by Aurelia Lange