We caught up with GrandNanny founder and CEO, Adele Aitchison, to find out what made her change career from Advertising to building a tech-enabled childcare service. And why she is passionate about building a more age diverse workplace to combat Ageism in our society .
What inspired you to start Grandnanny?
A combination of factors really. In my office job at a busy advertising agency I was witnessing a lot of frazzled working parents trying to find part-time childcare and struggling to find reliable options. And I saw that it often fell on the women I was working with and that could prevent workplace progression – so it was a feminist issue at first.
Whilst studying for an MSc in Gerontology and Ageing, which is the study of the biology, population trends, policy and social phenomenon associated with ageing, I was volunteering for an amazing intergenerational charity called North London Cares.
I realised that we have this childcare crisis going on and at the same time hundreds of thousands of older adults who, just like everyone else, want to contribute their skills and feel valuable. So making it possible for more people to find work in the Childcare Sector in their 50s and 60s seemed like an obvious way to create a win-win situation. The idea of GrandNanny was born.
Data shows that ageism contributes to unemployment of midlife + age groups. Why do you think people are marginalised due to their age and what can businesses do to prevent Ageism?
I think whenever any of us are unfamiliar with a certain characteristic in another person be that age or anything else it can lead to really unhelpful biases and assumptions about that person that aren’t founded in truth. Like I hear time and again, ‘older people aren’t on social media’ which is fundamentally untrue – on last count there were 6.4 million 55- to 65-year-old-plus regular Facebook users, the biggest demographic save for 16- to 34-year-olds.
We also hear people questioning the ability of older workers to carry out physically demanding work. Older workers are actually the backbone of Britain’s public services. 3.4 million key workers are over 50. Like any age demographic, ‘over 50s’ is a homogenous label for a really heterogeneous group, but there’s a lot of evidence pointing towards the fact that the over 50s labour force is incredibly knowledgeable, powerful and capable.
There’s also this idea of older workers as outspoken and contrarian which is fed to us by the media and broader cultural narratives but actually according to data from Ageing Better, 80% of people believe older adults have a wealth of experience and perspectives to offer society today. So we should absolutely be welcoming those perspectives in workplaces. I’d suggest that having different perspectives is very beneficial – it prevents blindspots and creates new opportunities and ideas.
What are the actions organisations can take to ensure age diversity?
On top of treating candidates as individuals and rooting decisions about where to advertise roles for over 50s in data, I’d also say that employers can be guilty of focussing on hard skills and undervaluing soft skills.
For example, one of our GrandNannies told us she had struggled to find a role because everyone was looking for current qualifications. Of course qualifications are valuable but so too is 20 years in the field as a Teaching Assistant or 30 years raising a family and grandchildren. Being more open-minded about transferable skills and soft skills is important when it comes to preventing Ageism in the recruitment processes.
It’s also about making the roles appealing to an older age demographic – thinking about things like menopause support or grandparent leave.
I’m a Trustee for the Research Institute of Disabled Consumers where we’re working on ensuring that the opinions and needs of older adults are considered by organisations when designing new products and services. Helping to create a more age-friendly society. As let’s face it, if we are lucky enough to, we will all age!
What do you think businesses could gain if they employed a more age-diverse workforce?
We have a labour shortage in the UK right now; employers can’t fill their roles. Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that more than 790,000 people aged between 50 and 64 are actively seeking work or are inactive but would like to find work. By thinking more broadly and welcoming midlife and older adults into our workplaces we can get businesses back on their feet.
In my experience working with GrandNannies there’s something very calming about working alongside an experienced colleague – when you’ve seen a lot of life, when you’ve had 50 or 60 years of experience on this earth then you get a lot less phased by a bad day.