“The biggest issue I noticed first was a huge pay disparity. I had watched male colleagues who were having children say, ‘I’ve got to have more kids’ because they were getting thousands of dollars extra. The way that our work works is that our base salary is the same no matter where we are. But based on where we live, we get bonuses. They were making more because they could stay in higher paying places. While I had to leave to have a safe pregnancy,” said Dr. Nafeesah Allen, Communications Expert and Migration Scholar.
A career is about more than where we work. Often, it’s the anchor that grounds our talents and ambition to a broader purpose, community, and–yes–financial stability. But work hasn’t always been the friendliest place for women, especially in traditional fields. And Motherhood can unravel whatever security and reputation you’ve earned. But what if we fought back? Nafeesah realized that despite choosing a career in government, for its stability, that pregnancy altered her earning power. And she decided to act. She’s now focused on financial wellness and developing a multifaceted professional life she loves.
Jobs That Appear Secure
“When I started working in government, I was thinking a lot about stability. It was like well, I’ve got to eat and begin adulting right? So, it kind of worked for me. There were a lot of benefits to signing on to a career like that straight out of college.” After working in journalism through undergrad and navigating the high cost of New York City living, government work appealed. She added, “When my Mom heard that I got this job she was like, ‘Oh my God you’re going to have health insurance!’ And many people retire in this job after 30 or 40 years because of the stability.”
Can Shift During Pregnancy
Nafeesah’s first pregnancy was difficult, “I had to parent even before I had that kid! I knew I had to Mother him in the pregnancy process because if I didn’t, it was going to be traumatic for me and for him. It was scary so, that kind of reoriented me in terms of knowing I had to have a lot of space for my own self-care and decision fatigue in my personal life. And that was shocking because I had never thought of that for myself.” She realized she’d need more mental health space for her growing family by the time she was pregnant with her second.
Because Bias is Still Rampant
“After I had my son, I started a new assignment and really clashed with the supervisor for a lot of reasons that I didn’t think were related to my pregnancy. But the minute I announced my pregnancy, it was just downhill. It went from bad to worse,” Nafeesah said. The appearance of job stability can be deceptive. Especially for Mothers, who are more likely to lose jobs, promotions, and perks, during pregnancy or the postpartum phase.
Nafeesah learned that her organization wasn’t set up to support her through her most vulnerable time. “My first pregnancy sat me down! So, by the second I realized all of the boundaries I needed to create and things I needed to do. I wasn’t comfortable in my new role because the personalities involved were not going to give me the space to be pregnant.”
Hers is still a male oriented workplace that assumes pregnancy should never interfere with work. Historically, many senior women decided not to get married or have children. And the younger generation–like Nafeesah– is pushing the organization to imagine women who build careers in harmony with Motherhood, not in spite of it. Unfortunately, this is a common challenge.
And Often Costs Women Professionally
Experiencing any kind of discrimination, bias, or mistreatment, is destabilizing. But the emotional strain becomes compounded by financial losses. The “Motherhood penalty” is alive and well. And when Nafeesah learned her experience was in stark contrast to that of her male peers, she realized she was experiencing pregnancy discrimination, which affects over 20% of Moms-to-be. She was advised to move to a new work location where she could deliver safely. And as a result, her bonuses were taken away.
This wouldn’t have been so bad if she was just working on a project in her new locale. But, in addition, she kept getting assigned work from the job she was no longer being paid for. “I was doing two jobs at one point and a lot of things were really nebulous.”
The perks and bonuses that she was entitled to, weren’t available because of her pregnancy. It became unclear who her boss was and who would complete her evaluations for promotion. To say her high-flying career came to an abrupt halt would be an understatement.
Kids are beautiful and expensive, so the financial stakes are much higher. “I started to do the math and essentially over the course of my pregnancy, I was going to lose $50,000 for having a healthy child. My job takes responsibility for our healthcare, so I was following their instructions but it cost me financially. Our system is a hot mess,” Nafeesah said. Just the cost of childcare compounds the loss of benefits and upward mobility many Moms experience during leave. Not to mention, the long-term retirement shortfall. She added, “The one thing the job offered was stability and, suddenly, it was feeling unstable.” What are your options?
So, Build Your Own Stability
Tenure not only provides more benefits, but the relationship capital that comes with trust. Nafeesah chose government for stability. But, she did so knowing that she had a lot of room to change her location and conditions. That is one of the benefits of being in a larger organization.
She said, “There’s a lot of rotation in my career. So, although there’s rigidity, there’s also a lot of autonomy to say, ‘I don’t want to do that anymore. Or I just want to start all over in a completely new place, with completely new projects, and a completely new work group.’ I can kind of reinvent myself but keep the longevity of my career. So, in many ways that’s worked really well for me.”
Create Emotional Distance from Your Job
Even when you’re passionate about your work, compartmentalizing it gives you space from it. And often that distance can help you make more objective choices. Nafeesah ended up fighting for fair compensation and filed an EEO complaint. Although it was an emotional and difficult path, it forced her to transform her relationship to her work.
It took over two years, but eventually the case was settled. “It took many months for some of the remedies to get put into place, but I decided ultimately to stay in the institution and think about ways to not allow it to consume my identity or my skills.”
Get Savvy About Savings
Financial wellness is wellness. It’s not really a surprise because almost everything that we need for our health and wellbeing, like quality medical care, childcare, eldercare, housing, schooling, or nutrition, requires some financial privilege–at least in the US. And let’s not forget that leadership and pay gaps for women, which are wider for women of color, can affect both short and long-term savings.
So, Nafeesah wisely, was already planning for her financial future. “This was a turning point for me. I’d always been really focused on money and wealth building in my career. Because I started my career thinking, ‘How am I going to pay for college?’ I was always in this space of asking, ‘What are the benefits of this career?’ Although it’s not as financially competitive as my friends’ careers who are working on Wall Street, it offers certain advantages.”
And Create Multiple Income Streams
Nafeesah learned as much as she could about personal finance. “I came in more self-aware about the benefits I wanted from this career than other people. And early on in my career, I got into real estate investing. Partially because we have these rotations that facilitate house hacking–getting a place, living in it for a little while, renting it out, and then getting another one.”
Despite economic ups and downs, real estate prices continue to rise in desirable markets. It’s not accessible or ideal for everyone, but real estate investing is one of many levers to pull for additional earnings. “I don’t know if people buy houses as hobbies but, in my mind, it was like it was like a hobby. Fun to explore now, but a long-term thing for when I retire,” Nafeesah reflected on her early purchases.
From Long-Term Investments
We’re in a financially turbulent season of record inflation, with companies that were in hypergrowth suddenly laying off thousands. Many families are beyond stressed about money. But you can begin to learn more about money management and place more buffer between your expenses and your paycheck.
Nafeesah said, “I was always money conscious but never as aware of it as I needed to be in that moment. This legal case was a huge turning point for me. Very abruptly, I realized money was getting taken out of my pocket!” If the psychological safety just isn’t there at work, the financial safety needs to be. So, she was able to push back hard on injustice.
Or Professional Side Projects
Post-kids, like most of us, Nafeesah faced the jarring shift to her identity and available time. Ultimately, this led her to begin her own business. In launching her own niche editorial company, she offers freelance writing services for mission-driven private clients. And has service-blogs, on financial planning in pregnancy and global Black history books, inspired by her own passions.
Not only does her own company provide additional income, but also it’s given her energy and confidence that comes from rekindling a creative pursuit that complements her vision of a full life. When it comes to her traditional career, she is now committed to bringing her whole self to the office. “I work in a much better environment now, even though I still work in the institution. That’s something people need to know when they’re in a situation like mine. It is possible to find peace in your life by re-imagining your career, even if that means working in a different area of the organization.”
Nafeesah hasn’t just made lemonade, but set up an empire from sour circumstances. She explained, “The institution is like a building and with different floors. And I was stuck in the janitor’s closet for a while and the lights were out. But I was a few feet away from the boardroom. I don’t know if I’m ever going to get promoted in the ways that I once imagined. But now, I’m looking for the right work team, for mental health, and leadership opportunities that don’t feel like punishment. I’m looking for people who agree with the philosophies that I have around work and life, and I can’t help but be really thankful that I’ve been able to find that.”
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Nafeesah Allen!
Follow Nafeesah’s great adventure on her website!
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Dr. Nafeesah Allen is a migration scholar and multicultural communications expert, who transformed her trauma from pregnancy discrimination into a new relationship with parenting, wealth, and serial entrepreneurship.
In just two years, she scaled her freelance writing hobby to a 6-figure editorial content and strategy company, complete with bilingual children’s books, a number of successful blogs (like Preggy Finance
Tags: financial management for Moms, Financial planning, financial wellbeing for moms, financial wellness, Gender Equity at work, motherhood penalty, pregnancy bias, Workplace discrimination