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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 She says work-life balance is an outdated, "bullsh*t", binary, two-dimensional concept that's long overdue a burial.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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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • ED
    ED S&T GLMarkets
    29 April 2023

    There are pros and cons to being a woman, especially at GS - looking to increase % so much in its Front Office turning a blind eye on qualifications,YoE even.I'm one of those exceptions from last year as so non-target against all that rumours to fit the urban legend top performer profile.

    How Easy is to get ED @ S&T role in London - if you know how to play the diversity card and corporate game. Some people are saying that getting into Front Office, Sell - side, Front Office @London is as much difficult as NY, that’s not entirely true. As I was recruited directly by HR from its main competitor by direct approach (typically for VP grades).

    However, I can call myself a lucky person as managed to land a ED role pretty easily within front office S&T department although:

    - I was lucky as HR hasn’t screened the reasons why I was disciplinary terminated @BofA my previous not last bulge bank back in 2015, focusing on my last only bank instead and my latest recommendation instead. Lucky this hasn’t impacted my on boarding and screening!

    - I'm absolutely 100% non-TARGET (Uni, MBAs, background etc), in fact I have started 2nd degree which never finished back at home, started ACCA which failed miserably, same goes to FCA, however used instead corp. cheat tricks doing one of the cheapest London’s MBA(100% pass rates guaranteed) which banks like GS, Morgan etc still buying it…most banks in London actually don’t recognize random MBAs, won’t not even participate in their funding due to they are not even close to qualification levels, which you have to obtain by yourself, in case MBA lots people helps themselves to outsource thesis writing to copywriters…Of course elite MBAs still have very restrict on boarding and cost small fortune as well, reason why MBA abbreviation is the only common between low and top end programmes thing.

    - My background by any means wasn’t neither an obvious choice for FO as I was coming from generic operations Firmops experience, never been involved in actually sells pitching, nor direct sell to clients interaction and not like most transfer I've heard about I wasn’t coming neither Risk or Research nor Markets exp

    - I haven't got any target Ivy(US) /Russel Group(UK) business diploma – nothing further from this in fact, as I have graduated mediocre accounting major in one of Easter European Unis, not even the most competitive major to start with, which believing urban

    - I’m not qualified – neither FCA, FRM, ACCA etc, in fact Analyst I managed are more technical superb than me as far my +15 YeO operational support goes. I have started ACCA but failed at 1 exam, Started FCA but failed too so MBA with guaranteed 100% successful rate at West London University so good way around, especially as they merged it with City Uni at the very end confusing HRs and giving other label instead.

    - CHEAT TRICK -- I have completed one of the cheapest (due to budget limitation and language barrier) non-target (as some called it Micky Mouse MBA) London’s MBA with added in package CMI low grade certification, nobody really recognize across the industry – costed about +£16k, which was later luckily merged with City Uni giving label boost a bit. Main requirement was pass basic IELTS test not like in more professional MBA programmes (GMAT).

    When most of my colleagues @ Goldman in comparison have graduated LSE etc. (costed £110k-140£k eMBA) due to problems with communication I was also forced to use extensive help copywriters to achieve my final result. One of advantages MBA over restrict self-study qualification as many people and alumni was doing the same, due to work commitments etc.

    - My communication skills although average at the best, as I have never studied English language as my first foreign language, nor eastern accent luckily hasn’t impacted my chances. I know it is huge obstacle in other FS sectors.

    - Finally if I were a men probably not meeting diversity targets (GS it is no surprise aims to increase % women in FO giving us a bit blind eye, I wouldn’t stand a chance among male colleagues)

    Overall I’m so grateful and happy that I can lead own team and set own targets as well recruit people suitable for business and my management own personal goals. Fantastic salary bump over Morgan.

    “The firm is committed to providing equal employment opportunity (EEO) to all qualified persons without regard to any characteristics protected by law, including race, nationality, sex, gender, religion and age.”

    Well one-way official policy, the reality is the other way round. That’s depends on people. I’m keep telling friends that in this business and such completive environment, there is no space for too old, too experienced candidates as they tend to create leaderships challenges and raising questions about operational sense and ways of doing things. When speed and accuracy are the most important in this role alongside soft skills managed highly skilled professionals. I personally tend to recruit only young candidates, who are willing to make extra effort, work long hours and do not challenge supervisors causing unnecessary fractions. Everyone is friendly but most defend their own opposition and pivot on visibility projects, and achievements all the time delegating less interesting work below.


    To summarize I’m not exactly a raw model for junior colleagues (sometimes) better qualified and technically skilled on the job than me, neither in terms of technicality nor ethics at all but once you are in, who cares!

  • Sa
    27 April 2023

    Totally agree

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