The Goldman Sachs MD who says work-life balance is "bullsh*t"
Rebecca Anderton-Davies is already famous. Not for being a managing director at Goldman Sachs, where she runs the firm's digital ETF platform in EMEA. Not for speaking at women's events across London. Anderton-Davies is famous for yoga, and in particular for yoga on Instagram, where she runs an account with 100,000 followers. But she may soon be famous for something else too: a frank attempt to get to grips with the issues faced by anyone trying to work a demanding job, and how to at least try to handle them.
Anderton-Davies is not a fan of work-life balance. In her new book, Shifting the Dials, there is little effort to conceal her contempt. She says work-life balance is an outdated, "bullsh*t", binary, two-dimensional concept that's long overdue a burial. Nor is she a fan of "leaning-in", of life coaches (at least not the ones that she's encountered), or of 'making your lifestyle work.'
Instead, Anderton-Davies is all about self-understanding, priorities, flexibility and pragmatism. Fundamentally, her new book (there was a previous one, about yoga), is all about understanding what you need to be happy and fulfilled, and pursuing that with resilience, while acknowledging that at times of your life it may make sense to pursue some priorities with more emphasis than others and that when serendipity rears its head, it's opportune to "dial down most things and run, hard, at that once-in-a lifetime opportunity."
While high earners in banking (managing directors at Goldman Sachs earn salaries of $400k-$500k, plus bonuses) can be stereotyped as pursuing material success to the exclusion of everything else, Anderton-Davies is unapologetic about her recognition that "well-paid, reliable employment" and raising her family "in a nice part of the world unthreatened (yet) by extreme weather or politics, or risks to the rule of law," is fundamentally important to her. She didn't come from an extremely wealthy family; she spent her university years working mundane jobs and came into banking via operations. She actively enjoys, "working with really smart people, solving really complicated problems and getting paid really well for it." She even enjoys working in the office. "Hell, I even quite like meetings! I like being warm and dry and wearing nice clothes," Anderton-Davies adds.
This doesn't mean that everyone else should or will have the same priorities. It does mean constructing a "dashboard" based on "honest reflection about the kind of person you are, your genuine needs and real commitments, and the values you hold most dear, as well as the resources you have at your disposal to make your wants happen, and the means you can, and will, deploy to get there."
Anderton-Davies' book has clearly been written with Goldman's acceptance if not its blessing, and might be seen as a tangential riposte to last year's book by Jamie Fiore Higgins, another female (ex) Goldman Sachs MD whose fictionalized account of her existence at the firm portrayed it anything but a good light. While Fiore Higgins battled against what she claimed (but which Goldman has denied) was a shamelessly sexist environment, Anderton-Davies says "the year I worked the fewest hours in my career in investment banking was the year I returned from maternity leave and made MD." Goldman has presumably been ok with her yoga following; it's presumably been ok with her robust disavowal of work-life balance; it made her MD when she was the mother of two children. Anderton-Davies is Goldman's new female brand ambassador.
It hasn't been easy, though. She points out that she was only promoted to MD after 11 years of hard grind, punctuated by health scares and doubts that she was on the right track. But she acknowledges, too, that her path has been smoothed by the fact that she's a slim, white, "middle-class white woman raised in a wealthy country by a military father and a teacher mother."
Mostly, Anderton-Davies' book is an attempt to help people navigate life and careers in a way that reflects the "four-dimensional" reality of existence. "Life happens in a series of opportunities, challenges and seasons, each of which requires wildly different allocations of our time and energy to wildly different priorities," she reflects. "Ultimately, a life of ease isn’t about things being easy, it’s about choosing the struggles that suit us best, if and where we can."
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