When Maureen Sherry returned to work after taking maternity leave, she was met by a curly-headed stranger sitting at her desk, his feet propped on a cardboard box with her client account list packed inside.
“I was shocked,” Sherry tells Business Insider.
To protect themselves from having no coverage should she not return from maternity leave, Sherry says her former employer, Bear Stearns, where she was a managing director for 11 years until she left in the 1990s, had brought someone else in to share her accounts.
“I wasn’t happy,” she says, and “it was a significant cut to income.”
Based on Sherry’s numerous stories, one could easily conclude that, on Wall Street, motherhood is a liability.
Sherry recalls the “moo” sounds traders made when she headed to the nurse’s office or bathroom with her breast pump. And the time a colleague drank a shot of the breast milk she had stored in the office fridge as a dare.
“It always felt a little bit embarrassing — like you didn’t fit in,” Sherry says.
The author of “Opening Belle,” a new novel based on Sherry’s experience, says she was offered 12 weeks of maternity leave. But she doesn’t really consider it leave because she had a terminal installed in her house and called in to the morning meeting every day. “It’s not like you’ve completely fallen off the face of the earth,” she says.
Several women Sherry worked with came back from leave early — some returned after taking two weeks of leave. “There’s a perception if you’re taking a full four months that you’re really not committed,” Sherry says.
Women would approach their superiors to let them know how their leave would work, saying, “I’m not really leaving, I’m totally available, call me whenever.”
Sherry even saw one colleague hide her pregnancy “to the point of farce.” She was so round and might have given birth in six weeks, Sherry says, yet she wore baggy dresses and pretended not to be pregnant.
“It’s a team environment, and people really want to be seen as a good team member — as a team member in good standing,” Sherry says.
One coworker hid being married, and when she was confronted, vowed never to get pregnant — and she never did. “The woman would constantly say publicly, ‘I’m never having kids.’ I think it was her saying, ‘Please, don’t discount me. I’m not a future mother, for God’s sake,'” Sherry says.
While Sherry points to better parental leave policies and mummy perks on Wall Street as a sign that things could be getting better, she also continues to hear from Wall Street mums that there’s a sense they shouldn’t be there.
As recently as a few months ago, one friend, who has children of her own, told her about a going away party her company threw for another mum who was leaving her job to stay at home with her kids. During the party, her boss stood up and said, “Let’s give her a big hand. She’s doing the right thing.”
“Once you get to a certain level, it’s a very homogeneous group,” Sherry says. “Many of their wives do stay home with their children. Their incomes are such that dual incomes are probably not necessary. And so they have a different mindset, and it’s less welcoming to people who aren’t like them.”
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