by Patricia Koetzner, STA WIF Chair & Inessa Ruffman, STA WIF Vice Chair
Everyone has heard the saying, the toughest job on earth is to be a mother. Balancing work and family has long been the reality for women in the U.S., as historically, women are the primary caregivers. This has remained true even as most women work outside of the home and provide meaningful contributions to household income.
Pre-pandemic, the demanding nature of a career in financial services weighed heavy on both new and experienced Wall Street Moms with children of all ages. Regulatory requirements to be physically tied to an office coupled with competitive forces deeply engrained in our firms and industry made it impossible to be a full-time present mother. Instead, the mothers of Wall Street past carved out a few quality hours before and after work, leaving the primary care for their children during the day to other caretakers. This often led to high levels of burnout, with many moms leaving the industry before reaching their peak-earning years.
Fast forward to March 2020, and the work-from-home scenario that played out showed everyone another way of living and working. While the pandemic produced new burdens on working mothers, it provided a few silver linings and game changing events. Most of today’s Wall Street Moms would agree that flexibility and an improved work/life balance have been positive results of the pandemic. It taught mothers new ways of balancing their professional and personal lives. For example, nursing mothers of infants were able to supervise care for their newborn as well as continue nursing in the privacy of their own home. Whereas, moms with longer careers and older children, who spent years having to prioritize which events or activities they could attend, were given the gift of time saved from not commuting.
Most of today’s Wall Street Moms would agree that flexibility and an improved work/life balance have been positive results of the pandemic. It taught mothers new ways of balancing their professional and personal lives.
There also came a heightened awareness on the importance of being in close proximity to family. Mothers with young kids were able to witness those first milestones in a child’s life, while parents of older children could help with homework, attend after school activities or just be there for them emotionally.
But the pandemic was not just about these types of life lessons. The vast majority of working women maintained productivity levels from home. In fact, some reported increased productivity due to better mental and physical health, even though a typical workday increased by 1.5 hours on average.
While there have been common experiences for all moms, there is a certain ‘tale of two cities’ that exists for the more senior/high-income moms versus those just starting out in their careers and families. Their professional and personal needs are different and as many companies call for workers to return to the office, this reality cannot be addressed with a one-size-fits-all strategy. Firms wishing to retain their top talent will need to find levels of flexibility, patience and imagination never considered prior to the pandemic.
Regulators will also have a role to play that perhaps involves looking towards other industries to redefine the expectations for financial professionals. Difficult questions will need to be asked and past ways of doing things will need to be reviewed through a much different lens. Could remote work or some hybrid arrangement be a new, modern solution for working mothers in the financial industry? Can remote work be a form of extended maternity leave? Can it inhibit happiness for mothers and their children, in return creating more secure current and future employees? Many questions arise, but one is clear. Mothers on Wall Street can use all the support they can get.
“Eighty-two percent of working moms polled earlier this year by Future Forum, a research consortium backed by Slack Technologies Inc., said they wanted flexibility in where they work, the highest level since the group began surveying white-collar workers in 2020.” –Bloomberg Article “Return-To-Office Plans Unravel as Workers Rebel in Tight Market” published on 5/11/2022 by Matthew Boyle
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