The best and worst times to have a baby when you work in banking

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Baby in banking

It's early autumn, and a car containing a female managing director, a female executive director and a female director from three different banks on Wall Street are driving out to the countryside for the weekend. Their current location and professions aside, they all have one thing in common: none have children. Coincidence? Maybe not.

Last month we published an article written by a vice president in an investment bank who claimed her 80 hour weeks, stressful job and demanding male colleagues (many of whom had young babies at home and therefore wanted to restricted their own working hours), were making it difficult to conceive a child. "The longer I work in banking, the more that I feel that I'm being made to make a choice: the ability to conceive, or the opportunity to become an MD," she complained. "My male colleagues don't have this dilemma."

Men in banking (and men in general) might well disagree - and indeed many have done so, vociferously, in the comments box at the bottom of that article. But the senior women in the car heading out of town are in accord: woe betide the female banker who takes advantage of her fertility before ensuring she can afford some solid help with the outcome.

"The right time to have children [in finance] is when you are senior enough and wealthy enough to hire lots of nannies and housekeepers, and to have a house husband a la Helena Morrisey (ex-Newton CEO)," says one, who's a director in the asset management division of a major bank. Her companion, an executive director in a sales role, suggests that before having a baby as a woman in finance you need to be at least in your early 30s and at least a director and then that you need to spend your (short) maternity leave checking-in with clients. - If not, you risk losing accounts to whoever covers them while you're away.  

Some would say the contemplative women in the car are already too senior to take time out for procreation. Another female vice president in another investment banking industry team in London, says it's too risky for a woman to start a family when she's an MD: "The men will get onto your accounts."  She says the best time to have children is when you're a junior director: you're established, but you still have time to build upon your profile after maternity leave. Don't have children at vice president (VP) level: the mountain ahead remains high and your inclination to tackle it will dissipate with nappies and nighttime disruptions. "The women who have babies when they're VPs don't come back," she observes.

Of course, banks do want women to come back. Goldman Sachs, for example, goes out of its way to entice lactating mothers with a service that ships their breast-milk back to their babies while they're traveling to meet clients. But as women who've breastfed will know, milk production isn't always predictable - and do you really want to be pumping in a client's toilet to stop seepage?

There are alternatives. You can bottle feed. You can have children as an associate and find a generous grandparent to help ("I know someone in management who had a baby in their late 20s," says an equity researcher. "That's a risk - everyone's super competitive and they're cutting the lowest on the totem pole every year."). Or you can get yourself a househusband from the start.

Either way, don't expect sympathy from male colleagues. "We were reduced to a team of three people from five due to two of our VPs going on maternity leave at the same time with no ability to hire anyone in their place and no idea of when they were going to come back to work," complains one man in banking about his fecund female coworkers. "It's always hard to find the time for children," says a male MD. "- I had my first when I was a first year associate and my third when I was a senior associate," he adds. "I was at the office seven days a week all that time. I'm not sure how we coped."

Of course, you can always decide not to cope. The women in the car on the way out of NYC went for this option. "Two of us decided not to have children because we just didn't want them," says the ED. "One of us couldn't fit them in around her career. We were all working 60+ hours a week when were were in our 30s. It would have been difficult to have kids too."

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