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She worked at Goldman Sachs. That made breastfeeding impossible

August 29, 2022, 11:25 AM UTC
A photo of a woman with brown curly, shoulder-length hair with white flowers behind her.
Jamie Fiore Higgins, author of "Bully Market."
Courtesy of Jamie Fiore Higgins

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The U.S. Open gets underway, Director of National Intelligence Avril D. Haines will investigate the documents found at Mar-a-Lago, and a former Goldman Sachs exec describes her challenges at the firm. Have a productive Monday.

Jamie Fiore Higgins rose to become a managing director at Goldman Sachs, working at the Wall Street bank in the aftermath of the Great Recession. But along the way, she says she encountered sexism and discrimination. Fiore Higgins is the author of a new book: “Bully Market: My Story of Money and Misogyny at Goldman Sachs.” In the excerpt below, she describes the struggle to breastfeed her children while working at the firm. The characters depicted in the excerpt are composite characters referred to by pseudonyms. Goldman Sachs says in a statement: “We strongly disagree with Ms. Higgins’ characterization of Goldman Sachs’ culture and these anonymized allegations. We have a zero tolerance policy for discrimination or retaliation against employees reporting misconduct, and all claims are thoroughly investigated with discretion and sensitivity.

– Bully market. After I gave birth to my twin daughters in late 2008, I had four months of family leave from Goldman Sachs. The firm policy that parents should be “unplugged” from work during leave was bogus. The birth of my kids didn’t end the financial crisis, so I logged in to work, dialed in to conference calls, and talked to my colleague Pete, who was covering for me, daily about the business. I felt like I had to do it, if I wanted to protect my job as manager in global securities services and my standing. Other women had done it too.

I thought back to the woman who was called from the office while she was in labor, and the other one who felt pressure to return after a few weeks, her Caesarean scar barely healed. They didn’t want to do it, but they felt they had to, so they told their managers it was O.K. And then there’s my partner at the firm, Mike, who had considered a man on my team a part-time employee because he left an hour early each day and paid him down accordingly. What would he think of me, after being out of the office one-third of the year?

As I prepared for my return to work, my biggest focus was finding childcare for the girls. My husband Dan, who had just started his own IT business, couldn’t care for them, but my mom had just retired and offered to watch them for us. I paid her of course—I was making the money to afford a nanny and as a retiree she needed the extra money. Plus, my grandma had meant everything to me, and she’d watched me while my mom worked. It felt so natural and fitting that my mom would do the same for my kids. Although I didn’t want to leave them, I was happy they’d be in her safe hands.

Breastfeeding was my next focus. I knew from day one that I wanted to do it. Goldman had a lactation center, an entire floor with hospital-grade pumps, private lockers, a full-size kitchen, and lactation consultants available 24/7. I’d miss the girls, but if I pumped, I knew I’d feel connected to them.

A few days before my return, Mike called. “HR informed me that you signed up for the lactation rooms. That’s going to be a problem,” he said. “Don’t you want to make managing director? You need to be at your desk working, not pumping.” I sat on my family room couch, as the girls slept in the double pack ‘n’ play next to me. My limbs were so heavy I wanted to climb in with them. People would die for your job, Jamie, I told myself as I bit my lip. “Yes, of course,” I said. “That’s what I want.”

“You’ll want to get home as soon as you can,” he said. “If you’re pumping half the day, you’ll have to make up the time. You won’t see the girls at all.” He was right. On a good day, I didn’t get home until 7 p.m. If I had to make up the pump time, I wouldn’t get home until after 8 p.m., which meant I’d never see the girls awake during the week. I looked out my sliding glass door and said nothing.

The irony is that HR most likely told Mike about my breastfeeding plans so he could support me, but it had the opposite effect. The most frustrating part of Mike’s call was that I knew I could’ve been productive while I pumped, since I’d have access to a phone and my email. These decisions weren’t based on reason and common sense, but on Goldman’s value system.

If your values aligned with the men in the glass offices, you were fine. But if you had different interests, look out. Leaving your desk to get your wing tips shoe-shined was a worthwhile endeavor. Providing breastmilk for your infant at home? Not so much. Those men in the offices clutched on to their old boys’ club values with white-knuckled fists. As long as they were in power, there wasn’t a chance that someone who looked like me, with interests like me, could be successful there.

“So we agree?” Mike said. “No breastfeeding.”

Tears blurred my vision. “Yes, Mike,” I said. “No breastfeeding.”

I shoved all my pump stuff in a plastic box and stuck it in my basement. I bought powdered formula and cried while I mixed it. Without stepping one foot in the office, I’d failed my girls already. I reminded myself that the purpose of my working was to provide for them financially. Bonuses, not breast milk, did that.

Excerpt from BULLY MARKET by Jamie Fiore Higgins. Copyright © 2022 by Jamie Fiore Higgins. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY.

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