Navigating a complicated home life

When I Iooked to return to the workforce after spending six years at home with my three children, the most important factors for me when searching for firms were culture and fit. I did quite a bit of due diligence and received a great deal of feedback about the firms I was looking at, especially from senior professional women. In the end, Vanguard stood out for its values as well as its focus on supporting women in the workplace.

Not long after I joined Vanguard three years ago, my husband was diagnosed with ALS. Since it was early in the diagnosis and his particular form of the diseases was rather slow moving, there was not much we needed to do to adjust the way in which we managed our home life with our kids. For this reason, I chose not to share my husband’s diagnosis broadly with colleagues in work situations. It wasn’t because I thought there would be any negative perception, I just wanted to keep it private. That being said, my supervisor and my team were aware of the situation and I knew I had flexibility in case of emergencies or other obligations, which was important to me.

Last fall, it became increasingly difficult to keep my husband’s diagnosis, and how it was affecting our family, to myself. It felt more and more like I was hiding something instead of simply being honest about everything, so I decided to share my story more broadly. Below is an excerpt from an e-mail I sent to my department, comprised of over 90 teammates:

“Early on in my tenure in [this department], I was asked to participate in a Culture and Inclusion panel on “covering,” which is a way of toning down part of your identity to fit into the mainstream. It is related to “passing” which is to be in the closet about your true identity. Both require energy and both should not be necessary in a culture of inclusion. Since becoming the [department] sponsor of Culture and Inclusion, I’ve given a great deal of thought to these concepts. While I’ve embraced parts of my identity as a mother, a woman, an Asian, and someone from the “outside,” there is one part of my identity that I have sought to hide. Nearly two years ago my husband was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Many of you may have participated in the ice bucket challenge a few years ago in support of ALS. It is a progressive, degenerative neuromuscular disease where victims lose the ability to control their muscles including eventually those needed for breathing. This past week my 10-year old daughter agreed to speak at her school assembly about her dad in an effort to raise awareness as part of her year-long “Think Care Act” project. When the principal asked her why she wanted an opportunity to speak at an assembly she said that while she is nervous about public speaking, she wanted to “try something outside of her comfort zone.” Which leads me to why I am writing this email. I wanted to try to get out of my own comfort zone and walk the talk of culture and inclusion. I believe strongly that there is a culture of inclusion and empathy here in [at Vanguard] and I hope each of you will find the courage to be your authentic self at work.”

The outpouring of support I received after sending that email was stunning. The best and most unexpected outcome was that so many people reached out with their own stories of health or family struggles. It was a gift to be able to connect with others on a more personal level.

Since becoming more open about my personal journey, I was recently asked to lead a session called “Navigating a Complicated Home Life.” The session was one of several “Candid Conversations” that were being orchestrated by the divisional organizers of Vanguard’s Women’s Initiative for Leadership Success (WILS) program. It was a small session of about twenty women of all ages and demographics, many of whom I did not know. I expressed with the group how I was trying to manage my home life, and the more I shared, the more others were willing to tell their own stories. No two stories were the same. The only common thread was the authenticity of the struggle. Some people spoke and others just listened with open hearts and minds. There was empathy, advice, tears and strong emotions. I left realizing this is why I had come to Vanguard. Work is not just work. Work is a community. Work is where we spend the majority of our time, time that could be spent with family, friends and other communities. I’m thankful to work at Vanguard where I believe everyone can be their authentic selves and feel supported by those they work with.

– Liz F.

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