When CM, a 42-year-old business manager at Credit Suisse bank, had to miss his seven-year-old daughter's sport's day to go to work, he did not think she would mind. What's one sports day, after all?
But CM, who also has a three-year-old daughter, has still not lived it down – 10 months later. He works up to 50 hours a week in the City, usually leaving before his children wake up and returning once they are in bed. He misses most mealtimes and rarely sees his children from Monday to Friday, when his wife looks after them. "My elder daughter has held against me that sports day I couldn't make," he says. "But the worst thing is, she probably only spoke to me about it months later. I thought she'd forget, but she didn't."
And so, CM, along with more than 200 others – including the Deputy Prime Minister – found himself at the launch of a new support and networking group called Cityfathers yesterday at the offices of KPMG, in Canary Wharf, London.
All the men I spoke to were trying to get ever closer to that often-elusive "work-life balance". But, according to a new survey by the organisation, many fail. Nearly half of 753 City fathers surveyed by the organisation described "missing their children" as their biggest daily challenge. Some 45 per cent described their work-life balance as less than satisfactory; more than a quarter either took no paternity leave or did not take their full share.
The organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills, a chief operating officer who set up Citymothers in 2012 – a group that now boasts more than 3,000 members. "The cultural challenges facing fathers in City professions who want to spend more time with their families and progress their career can be even greater than those facing mothers," she said. "There is a greater need than ever to change the culture of the City."
What is this culture? Long hours are a major part of it, the working fathers told me. We might be one year away from fathers being able to share parental leave, but fathers such as CM believe there is still a "stigma" around asking to go part-time. Colin Leckey, a 36-year-old employment lawyer at Lewis Silkin, can work up to 60 hours a week. He has to juggle the care of his two children, four and two, with his wife, who is also a lawyer and works four days a week. Both of his children are in nursery from 7.30am to 6pm, and a member of its staff has to drive them home.
Father-of-two Brijesh Patel, 34, an associate director at financial services corporation State Street, is out of the house from 7am, when his young sons are still in bed. He returns at about 8pm as they are going to sleep. But he thinks things are slowly changing. "There is more flexible working," he said. "It was my three-year-old's first day at nursery today. I got in to work at 10.30am and I worked at home in the morning, so I got to see him go."
But, according to the Deputy Prime Minister, to achieve greater equality, we must embrace "more radical change." He added: "We need to challenge the ways in which many fathers are still pushed to see themselves as a breadwinner first and carer second – whether it's by a manager's raised eyebrow when you ask for some family time off... or your own ingrained fear that if you choose to work more flexibly, you'll find your career stuck in the slow lane."
Perhaps it is just going to take pioneers. Philip Gilbertson, a financial services auditor at KPMG, has gone down to four days a week, along with his wife, who also works at the firm, to care for his 13-month-old son Edward. They can each work up to 60 hours a week, but fit it around picking up their son from nursery at 4.45pm. "It used to be that you'd work until 8pm, go home, have dinner, catch up with your wife, and watch some TV. But now, I leave to pick him up, play with him and then do my work. Your work day is split into two halves," he said.
He does not know any other City fathers who are working part-time. Perhaps, after reading this, others will take his lead.