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Why Women May Emerge from the Pandemic Stronger Than Ever

Merrill women leaders share lessons learned to help you move forward financially, professionally and emotionally this year


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. Like super glue, holding families and their communities together, women have done it all during the pandemic: Wife. Mother. Daughter. Teacher. Front-line worker. Caregiver. First responder. Professional. Politician—including, finally in the U.S., even VP.


“I’ve 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. The response of the women I know 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; women, for instance, have left the workforce at a far higher rate than men,1 with many citing the pressures of juggling careers and home-schooling 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 reset their financial and professional lives and continue boldly on the path toward gender equality. Below, several 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. I was also reminded of the value of friends. My group chat with my girlfriends was a constant source of support, commiseration and laughter,” she says.


Ninon Marapachi, head of Asset Manager Relationships, Investor Solutions Group, Bank of America, shares that “the recent health crisis has made me more intentional about how I spend my time. It’s 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’s going through.”


Q: Do you have tips for staying connected, proving your value and getting promoted while working remotely? 

“Working from home has lasted longer than any of us expected, so I’ve 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 Merrill 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 and consider being both a mentor and a mentee,” says Auerbach-Rodriguez. “Organize a volunteer event and get involved with employee networks,” suggests Fahmy.


Fahmy also recommends “looking for opportunities to present your work at team meetings,” even though those meetings are via video camera now. On the subject of career building, Kirstin Hill, chief operating officer, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, Bank of America, offers this advice: “You don’t have to be in person to demonstrate value. And don’t worry about sounding like you’re bragging, because you won’t. Letting your managers know what you’ve accomplished, in a clear, simple way, just allows 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? 

“Taking a career break can’t always be monetized. Having additional time at home, or for yourself, can be priceless,” says Auerbach-Rodriguez. “That said, if you’re considering a change, revisit the financial plan you have in place and see what you may need to do to stay on track for your retirement savings and other important goals.” Fahmy agrees: “Review your situation with a financial advisor to ensure that you can afford to take a career break. You may need to make adjustments to 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’s 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, so you can’t forget.” 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: “As a pediatric ICU nurse and single mom to two teenagers, 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 of what kids are going through. She’s one of many teachers like that.”


“There are just too many choices,” sums up Auerbach-Rodriguez. Women’s contributions to their families and their communities during the pandemic are nothing short of extraordinary. And their example provides hope for a brighter future for us all.

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1 “When Women Lose All the Jobs,” Center for American Progress, February 2021
have questions regarding your particular situation, please contact your legal or tax advisor.


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