Women in finance: what do new mums need from their workplace?
New mum and senior investment analyst - equities at U Ethical, Sabina Ahmed returned from maternity leave in April this year. In adjusting to the new and unchartered territory of being a mother, combined with fulfilling her career ambitions, Sabina shares her experience and advice for other new mums in finance.
The journey of motherhood is one of life's greatest joys. However, no amount of research, books, or googling can prepare you for what's to come along with the baby. It’s a unique experience, similar to a growth stock finally paying a dividend, but not knowing if the value of the stock will be consistent over the next coming years.
For me, as I started my path towards motherhood, an initial feeling of ‘mum guilt’ quickly took a mental and physical toll. That is, a feeling of guilt for not fulfilling the archaic societal expectation that a woman should keep their child-rearing priorities first and careers second.
I can’t pin point exactly why in 2021 I was quick to have this feeling. Was it because other women in this largely male-dominated finance industry I had read about and listened to had shared feelings of being overlooked and discriminated against? Was I unknowingly experiencing self-fulfilling prophecy having listened to their circumstances? In an industry requiring ‘levelheadedness,’ surely the ups and downs of a new mum’s life thwarts this balance, right? Well, wrong.
My experience is that if you feel empowered to keep up open communication about what you need and more importantly, are heard and supported thereafter, you can indeed find this balance and in fact thrive as a new working mum; personally and professionally.
'Baby' Steps to Balancing Motherhood and a Career
I was initially drawn to the finance industry because of the fascinating world of equities market and the fast-paced changes in behaviours of different asset classes. It was interesting to understand and see how an investment can make an impact (positive or negative) on a company and countries as a whole. Additionally, I wanted to encourage more females to join the world of investments.
Being a career-driven woman, going back to work was an undeniable decision for my own growth and fulfilling these aspirations.
As I came near the end of my maternity leave, remembering why I wanted to return was crucial as in looking for day care centres it was easy to get overwhelmed and retreat back into this feeling of ‘mum guilt.’
It was at this point that I realised just how important it is to work for a company that supports you. I picked myself up and called my manager explaining about this feeling and what I needed to overcome it. I was heard, supported and given help allowing me to carry on.
It’s important to realise that while I had this experience, the next mother may have a different concern or feeling. Being a new mum returning to work isn’t something linear and one person’s experience and needs may differ to the next. Keeping up open communication about what you need for that week, day or hour and being heard, I think, is key to helping new mums comfortably return to work.
Luckily my workplace is guided by the value of being diversity lived. This means I work alongside other women with shared experiences. In what can be a very male dominated arena, gender diversity is experienced from the top down. Our board, leadership and managerial teams have created a balanced culture of inclusion and acceptance. This gave me the confidence to speak up when needed.
What was even more helpful, was that I communicated when I had to, but a lot of the support happened organically and without me needing to always reach out. This included things like being provided with details of an Employee Assistance Program, receiving a six monthly well-being allowance, and messages or calls from other mothers – and fathers!
Staying Resilient Through the Struggles
I was expecting at the peak of the global pandemic (March 2020) – when things were not exactly smooth sailing. This feeling of uncertainty was exacerbated when thinking of my family overseas and questioning when I would be able to visit them.
Thankfully, U Ethical had embraced flexible working even before Covid-19. I could rest assured that this ‘new normal’ was actually going to be not all that new. We would continue business as usual despite any restrictions requiring working from home.
They say you need a village to go through your maternal journey, well I was fortunate to find my support system at U Ethical; my family away from family.
My final advice for any other women in finance reading this is to communicate as much as you can before and after maternal leave. This will ensure you and your manager are on the same page about expectations. There are no right or wrong questions, your mental health is always the priority and a good company should make sure of this. Finding a work culture that fits is and should be an integral part of any career-related decisions.
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