On being a Black, breastfeeding wealth management professional
After giving birth to my son, Remington, earlier this year — while co-CEO of an RIA and a spokeswoman and educator for our industry — the sense of being overwhelmed was palpable.
It was then that I bumped up against the difficulties faced by many working moms in wealth management and, indeed, by many women in America, throughout their careers.
Women are still choosing between banking sick days so that they can rest and care for their baby after delivery or putting their mental and physical well-being at risk. They take detrimental health risks, hoping to be rewarded as a team player who can work through any condition when it’s promotion time.
When adding ethnicity and race to the working mom equation, Black women, Latinas and other minorities often feel greater pressure to push through and avoid giving another unsubstantiated reason for firms to discount their contributions. This group, for which I am included, face ongoing workplace discrimination based on skin color, hair styles, and birth names, to name a few.
Adding breastfeeding to the laundry list of workplace challenges brings an even heavier mental and physical burden. RIAs seeking to broaden, attract, retain and boost their pool of talent would do well to examine their workplace policies, facilities and cultures pertaining to these issues.
Although I was already working from home by the time my doctor ordered me into bedrest during my third trimester, I still struggled with the push-pull between my health and my career. I am grateful that my business partner insisted I listen to the doctor’s orders; I know not all women in the profession have the same support.
My husband and I managed to make it through a successful delivery during COVID-19 which was no small feat. Our son arrived healthy, and I decided that breastfeeding, if my body allowed, was the choice I wanted to make knowing there are antibodies in breastmilk that would help fight off viruses and bacteria.
Breastfeeding is important, and RIAs should support a mother’s endeavors to nurse her baby. The benefits for both baby and mom are undeniable, but there is so much more to the struggle of being a working parent in wealth management than meets the eye.
The United States is one of the very few countries that does not mandate paid maternity leave. While some states require larger businesses to provide breastfeeding spaces and the Family and Medical Leave Act affects all big companies, the vast majority of RIAs have fewer than 50 employees.
For Black professionals, questions about infant mortality carry the extra weight of history and the present. Enslaved women were expected to nurse their white owners' babies, often at the expense of their own children. Many times, these Black babies perished without proper nutrition.
Let’s stop and think about that unimaginable cruelty.
To this day, Black babies continue to show mortality rates that are more than double that of white babies; there is a correlation with Black infants being less likely to be breastfed.
The great news is that wealth management companies can retain and support new mothers (and fathers!) in their offices, especially those who are Black, Latino, indigenous or people of color by addressing a simple question: Is their workplace environment conducive to new moms at each stage of this transition?
Large firms should move beyond FMLA standards, and small businesses should consider their options so new moms don’t have to resort to short term disability. Many boutique financial planning firms leave new parents to figure out their leave on their own.
We can do so much better.
Offering paternity leave is a smart step. After I delivered my son, I encouraged my husband to take his full 16 weeks of paid paternity leave to demonstrate how the involvement of both parents is critical during these early months. In doing so, he signaled to colleagues that taking time off to support his partner and care for his child was what was most important. We could all benefit from more examples of prioritizing family life in the workplace.
Office facilities of the future represent another area to examine. I recall one of my colleagues lamenting (pre-pandemic) how her office with its glass walls had few private places for her to pump. How can companies work to ensure she feels comfortable in this vulnerable state?
Consider what safe, private spaces you can offer that include comfortable seating, electric outlets and if possible, a sink to clean pumping supplies. This guide from the United States Breastfeeding Committee has more tips.
Company culture is another critical area. Just like we love to talk the talk about how grind culture and burnout are negatively affecting us, we must walk the walk by taking time off to focus on our loved ones and newborn children. It’s imperative for businesses to provide it, and for women (and their partners) to exercise it.
In addition to building stronger businesses for RIAs across the country, this workplace shift can be quite literally, a life or death matter.
With everything 2020 has taught us, we can move into the last months of the year with a fresh resolve to do better by the half of the population that have sacrificed much of their lives to raise the leaders of today and tomorrow.