Each year, Women’s History Month shines a light on the often unsung contributions of women around the world. This year, more than ever, women’s contributions deserve recognition. Holding families and society together, women have done it all during the pandemic: Wife. Mother. Daughter. Teacher. Front-line worker. Caregiver. First responder. Professional. Politician — including even Vice President.
“I have seen all of the women in my life step up to work even harder — as caretakers for sick loved ones, teachers to their children, to help feed their communities and fight for social justice. Their response has left me in awe,” says Marci McGregor, senior investment strategist, Chief Investment Office, Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank.
On the other hand, the financial impact of the pandemic has threatened to erase decades of economic gains and progress towards equality; many women have left the workforce, citing the pressures of juggling careers and homeschooling as a reason. Yet, as vaccination programs ramp up and stimulus plans help to boost economic recovery, women may emerge stronger and more resilient than ever, using lessons learned to re-set their financial and professional lives and continue boldly on the path toward gender equality. Below, several Bank of America and Merrill women leaders offer tips for moving forward.
Q: How have you dealt with the stress of the pandemic, and what lessons have you learned?
“What a rollercoaster of a year!” says McGregor. Like many women, she found that prioritizing her health was key to managing stress. “Just finding a way to get outside every day helped,” she says.
Ninon Marapachi, head of Asset Manager Relationships, Investor Solutions Group, Bank of America, shares that “the recent health crisis has taught me to treasure moments with people who are close to me.” Learning to let go and “not strive for perfection” were key takeaways for Nancy Fahmy, head of Alternative Investments and Specialty Asset Management, Bank of America. And from Jen Auerbach-Rodriguez, managing director, Strategic Growth Markets, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, comes this reaffirmation of a valuable rule to live by: “Give people the benefit of the doubt. You never know what someone is going through.”
Q: Do you have tips for staying connected, proving your value and getting promoted while working remotely?
“I have tried to set aside time to catch up with colleagues I used to see in the office about things unrelated to work,” says McGregor. Many women leaders point to the value of mentorship as a way of staying connected and contributing to the culture of their company. “Make the time to check in on people,” says Auerbach-Rodriguez.
Fahmy also recommends “looking for opportunities to present your work at team meetings,” even via video camera. On the subject of career building, Kirstin Hill, chief operating officer, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, Bank of America, offers this advice: “Let your managers know what you have accomplished, in a clear, simple way, allowing them to tell your story on your behalf.”
Q: What financial advice do you have for women who want to step back professionally—to create better work-life balance or manage a caregiving role?
“Having additional time at home, or for yourself, can be priceless,” says Auerbach-Rodriguez. Fahmy agrees: “Ensure that you can afford to take a career break. You may need to adjust your spending habits or lifestyle.” Adds McGregor, “Check in with your HR department. Many employers are offering expanded benefits to caregivers and to support their employees’ physical and mental health right now.”
Q: How can all of us be better prepared financially for the next unexpected event?
“Not spending all that you earn — it is important to have an emergency fund to cover at least six months of basic expenses,” says Marapachi. McGregor adds, “Pay yourself first. It sounds so simple, but being diligent about saving is the best way to prepare for unexpected events. Set it up to happen automatically.” She also recommends having “the difficult conversations about wills, financial planning and health directives before you are in a crisis.”
Q: Who has inspired you the most in the last year?
Health care workers and educators rank high in almost everyone’s estimation. Fahmy applauds her childhood friend, a pediatric ICU nurse: “She worked tirelessly to care for coronavirus patients while continuing to care for her own family.” And Hill celebrates her daughter’s teacher, saying “not only did she keep my daughter engaged academically remotely, but she did so with an extraordinary sense of empathy and understanding. She is one of many teachers like that.”
“There are just too many choices,” sums up Auerbach-Rodriguez.
Women’s contributions during the pandemic are nothing short of extraordinary. And their example provides hope for a brighter future for us all.
For more information, contact Jeffery Price in the Southlake office of Merrill Lynch at 817-410-4940 or [email protected].