Morgan Stanley Fired Me 22 Days After I Returned from Maternity Leave
Morgan Stanley Fired Me 22 Days After I Returned From Maternity Leave
Being a dedicated mother and a dedicated VP aren’t mutually exclusive
The last few months have been some of the most difficult of my life as I struggle to find a new career and adjust to motherhood at the same time. I spent years working toward a career on Wall Street, buoyed by the constant reminder that, as a child of immigrants, I could (and should) achieve the American dream. But then, 22 days after returning from maternity leave, I was fired from my institutional sales position at Morgan Stanley. As I search for a new job, I feel pressure to prove that I have grit. But sometimes I can’t help but look back and wonder: How did I end up in this situation? Should I have done things differently?
My parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam. Growing up, I was often reminded that I was born an American citizen. Unlike them, I could be anything — even the President — if I worked for it. My parents were school teachers back in Vietnam, where they owned their own home. Although they didn’t speak English, they chose to immigrate to the U.S. so their children could have better lives. They worked 12-hour days, seven days per week, in factories and beauty shops. But we still needed food stamps, WIC checks, and trips to the local food bank to feed our family. The seven of us lived in a two bedroom apartment next to our church. Before attending an 8 a.m. church service every Sunday, my mom would prepare a large meal that needed to last the entire week.
My parents were limited in how much they could assist me with my studies due to a language barrier and their lack of free time, but they made the wise decision to enroll me in Head Start, a government-sponsored program designed to help break the cycle of poverty by providing comprehensive early childhood education for low-income families. Education would be the foundation to achieving my dreams, starting at age three.
I wanted to make sure my parents’ sacrifices were worthwhile so I was determined to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible. In the eighth grade, I skipped my lunch period every day to learn algebra at a nearby high school. I joined after-school clubs, became a varsity athlete, and volunteered. I was elected Student Body Vice President and voted Homecoming Princess. Although I had a “normal” teenage life during the day, I also spent my evenings and weekends working various minimum wage jobs to help support our family. I cleaned bathrooms, prepared fast food, retrieved shopping carts from parking lots, bagged groceries, and waited tables. Any free time I had was spent studying. As a result of my hard work and dedication, I was named Valedictorian at my high school graduation ceremony.
As the youngest of five children, I knew that financial aid and a part-time job would not be enough to cover the costs of college, especially at a private university. I applied to dozens of private scholarships from companies, nonprofits, and community groups. When I received an acceptance letter from Stanford University, my parents and I knew our hard work had paid off. I would be their first and only child to attend a private university. Thanks to a combination of scholarships, financial aid, and a part-time job, I attended Stanford and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with a B.A in Economics and an M.S. in Management Science and Engineering.
After college, I landed my first job on Wall Street. It was a salaried position with health care benefits, something my parents never had. Unfortunately, I got this job during the height of the financial crisis so I, along with many others, experienced a stretch of unemployment a year after moving to New York City. Education and hard work had always been the foundations of my achievements so I decided to join Teach For America to hopefully inspire the next generation of underprivileged children. Then I restarted my career on Wall Street as a first-year analyst selling foreign exchange.
Back on Wall Street, I quickly realized that my upbringing made me different from many of my colleagues. I didn’t grow up playing golf or skiing in the Swiss Alps. I wasn’t from the Northeast and my family was not “in the business.” I didn’t study abroad or volunteer in a foreign country during college. Although I’d “made it” to Wall Street, I knew it would take hard work and long hours to succeed there. I spent almost a decade flying around the country to build client relationships with the asset managers that many Wall Street banks court for business. I once flew to three different states in one day to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with three different clients. When I was at the office, I ate most meals at my desk while staring at six computer screens. My hard work led to a promotion from Associate to Vice President. And with my career in place, I decided I was ready to start a family. After struggling to get pregnant, I was ecstatic when I found out I was expecting. I felt like everything was finally falling into place.
Twenty-two days after returning from my maternity leave, I was fired abruptly from my institutional sales position at Morgan Stanley. After nearly four years at the company and increased sales production numbers every year, I was escorted out of 1585 Broadway and forbidden from returning to collect my belongings. After pleading with HR, I was allowed to retrieve my breast milk under the condition that I be escorted to and from the refrigerator. I felt humiliated and ashamed as I waited outside the building for the rest of my personal property. After I was fired, I begged for answers from the senior trading floor executives at Morgan Stanley; these were the same people who had poached me from another investment bank when I was unmarried and childless. As my chest swelled during these conversations, I remembered that I had to pump or risk mastitis (an inflammation of breast tissue that can lead to pain, swelling, infection, fever, and chills). Then I started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to see my doctor because my family was covered by my job-based health insurance plan, not my husband’s.
Now that I have a new baby at home and increased healthcare costs, I’ve been eager to find new employment. The client relationships I spent almost a decade developing helped me secure interviews during the week following my layoff. In fact, I interviewed at seven different investment banks over the next few months. But while I went into each interview prepared with a positive outlook, I was disappointed to find that multiple investment bank employees asked questions about my childcare plans and whether this was my first child.
After those interviews, I couldn’t help but wonder about my choices. Should I have stopped breastfeeding when I returned to work in order to demonstrate my commitment to my career? Should I have waited just a few more years to start a family to avoid the pay gap? Should I choose to take a few years off from my career to focus on my family and then apply to a returner program on Wall Street? Am I only valuable to the workforce when I’ve finished having children and they’re all in school?
Recently, I wrote an open letter to James P. Gorman, the Chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley, asking to be released from an alleged arbitration agreement that may force me into secretive proceedings intended to keep complaints quiet. This alleged agreement may also prevent me from suing in court for employment discrimination on the basis of sex and pregnancy status. Here’s the letter I sent:
This content was originally published here.