love and war

Real Wall Street Women on How Banks Deal With Pregnancy

Sarah Megan Thomas in the new film <i>Equity</i>.
Sarah Megan Thomas in the new film Equity. Photo: Courtesy of Broad Street Pictures

Equity, a new film out Friday, subverts the typical Wall Street tale. There are no big swinging dicks. The main characters are women, and incredibly, they are not wives, prostitutes, or cocaine conduits. Instead, they are real people talking about work, driving the stock market, and (gasp) getting pregnant.

The film centers on Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn), an investment banker tasked with taking a promising new tech company public, and her junior banker, Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas), who must step up to guide the deal. Alysia Reiner (of Orange Is the New Black fame) plays an old friend of Naomi’s who gets in the way.

Thomas and Reiner’s company, Broad Street Pictures, reached out to more than 100 men and women in finance and enlisted the advice and cash of some of the most powerful women on the Street. As a result, the characters’ struggles against the glass ceiling feel nuanced and honest.

When the junior banker Erin learns she is pregnant, she decides to hide it from her bosses. On Tuesday night, at a screening of the film (hosted by the Cinema Society, Bloomberg, and Thomas Pink), Thomas told the Cut they based this specific plot point on the experiences of many women they interviewed.

“If they were with child, they wouldn’t get the promotion or they wouldn’t get paid as much that year,” Thomas said. “So they hid it for 25 weeks, which is a long time. And some women we talked to didn’t feel like they could come back into the work force after having a baby, like if they took more than eight weeks off, that was a problem.”

Linnea Roberts, a former Goldman Sachs partner and an investor in the film, said she hoped the movie would get people talking.

“So many Wall Street movies are very farcical, and I was very happy that it felt very real,” she said. “I have done diversity at Goldman for the last several years, and I wanted it to be a discussion piece. I’m okay with it being tough. It’s not a recruiting film. Don’t show it to your daughters who are thinking about Wall Street. But it is a good vehicle to have the conversation — is it still like this?”

So last night the Cut asked three of the film’s powerful female advisers and investors, “What is it really like to be pregnant on Wall Street?”

Barbara Byrne, vice-chairman of investment banking at Barclays
“I had four kids. They kept wondering every time, ‘She’s not coming back’; I always came back. Anyone with this many kids knows you have to come back or you’ll lose your mind. I had the first maternity leave at Lehman Brothers. I went in and asked my boss, ‘What’s maternity leave?’ And he said, ‘Six weeks disability.’ I said, ‘Well, wait a minute — my classmate’ — I won’t say his name because he’s still on the Street— ‘is on sick leave for three months because he went on a client junket and ate bad shellfish and got hepatitis. So he turns yellow’ — he is the CEO of a firm today — ‘and I’m producing a future taxpayer, and he gets three months and I don’t?’ And then they gave it to me. I think their thought was We’ll give it to you, there’s only one of you, but once you have established precedent, that’s what’s important. Establishing precedent and opening up that channel. Things are getting better, like the president of the United States, the prime minister of Great Britain — and that is power.”

Linda Zwack Munger, former institutional bond salesperson at Lehman Brothers
“It really nails the nuanced dilemmas that women have that men don’t necessarily have. I went through two pregnancies while working Wall Street. Like Erin, I did my best to hide them because, as a woman, you had to make sure you are taken so seriously at any turn and anything that might give someone the feeling that you have a foot out the door, you worry about, in a way that men don’t have to worry about. I couldn’t hide my pregnancy for very long, but we all did it. You just kept very quiet until it was obvious that you were pregnant; you didn’t talk about it. You held out as long as you could. To their credit, I felt very fairly treated. But until you go through it the first time, you are walking on eggshells wondering what the consequences might be, if you are going to lose ground, if you are going to be dinged in your compensation because you are pregnant and going on maternity leave. It certainly has gotten better, but it is probably not where it could be. The whole concept of maternity and paternity leave has got a long way to go.”

Candy Straight, former advisory director of Securitas Capital
“We haven’t seen women on Wall Street in high-powered positions. We haven’t even really seen them at the vice-president level, which that character Erin is at. Women do lose pay equity when they go off to have a child, and that shouldn’t be, in my opinion. You can understand why the character Erin is hiding her pregnancy, and many women do. I didn’t have children, but many of my friends hid their pregnancies until the fifth or sixth month if they could. In the ’70s, they were hiding their pregnancies — in the ’80s, ’90s, and still today.”

When a Wall Street Banker Gets Pregnant