For many mums and dads working in the City, the pressure gauge is now banging against the red zone.
On the work side, Christmas brings client drinks parties, office shindigs, annual appraisals, bonus dramas, mystery Santas, week-long hangovers and projects with a “before Christmas” deadline. On the family side, December means nativity plays, parents’ evenings, last-minute Christmas shopping, school concerts, finding a right-sized turkey, and probably some complicated travel arrangements, and that’s to name just a few of the season’s challenges.
Every City parent finds their own way to get through the mental and physical assault course Christmas brings. One I know splurges on chauffeur-driven motorbikes to dash from seeing his kids perform Humphrey the Christmas Camel in Kensington to Old Street’s Shoreditch House, where his staff Christmas party is held. Another puts in extra hours at the weekend to make up for all the time spent getting to teacher-parent meetings, which at his children’s state school are available only during office hours. There will be plenty of new parents dodging the flaming sambucas at the office party, knowing there will be nappies to change in the night.
With its manic juggling of work events and family responsibilities, Christmas is a good time to consider whether the City is becoming more family-friendly. I think it is, even if there is clearly a very long way to go.
Studies show, for instance, that the new generation of fathers wants to take a bigger hand in day-to-day childcare, and my experience is this is beginning to be reflected in the prevailing attitudes at some City firms. While the City isn’t exactly free of workaholic, hard-living men with old-fashioned views, being ignorant of your colleagues’ family responsibilities is now much less socially acceptable than it was 10 years ago.
On top of that, a growing body of research from the likes of McKinsey shows that gender diversity has strong benefits for the bottom line, and that City firms with family-friendly policies and staff who are aligned with that are more likely to prosper than those that don’t. This realisation is also bedding in at leading City firms, together with ideas taken from progressive companies in Scandinavia.
I think there’s a lot more positive change around the corner though. Increasing the numbers of women in senior roles is likely to make the City more family-friendly, and there is a strong push underway from many quarters to achieve just that. A series of initiatives led by government and business aimed at increasing the representation of women at senior levels now has real momentum, and, you could say, is turning into quite a big snowball indeed.
To take some examples, the Hampton-Alexander review recently unveiled a target for 33 per cent of senior roles in FTSE 100s to be filled by women within four years, building on the current 25 per cent, while the share of board seats held by women has doubled in five years, driven by the government-backed Davies review. Jayne-Anne Gadhia, chief executive of Virgin Money, has been appointed the Treasury’s new women in finance champion, while the Investment Management Association has launched a five-year project to increase diversity, including gender, in the fund management industry.
Will Christmas continue to be a crazy time for City parents in years to come? Of course it will, but from the evidence I can see, City firms will increasingly nurture family-friendly policies and we will see more women in senior roles. Together, I think this will mean that adjusting working practices around Christmas to allow for family responsibilities will become even more commonplace than it is now. Any remaining Scrooges in the City will find themselves saying “bah, humbug!”.