5 lessons for success and happiness on Wall Street — from a Bank of America rising star turned doula and Reiki master

  • Laura Hayward started her Wall Street career at Morgan Stanley during the financial crisis. 
  • She left the industry this summer after more than 10 years to be a doula and energy therapist.
  • Hayward, who rose ranks at Bank of America, shares what she learned to be both successful and happy on Wall Street.

When Laura Hayward, a rising star in Bank of America’s equities trading division, had a batch of fertilized chicken eggs delivered to the office from eBay, she was careful to alert the mail room not to X-ray the container.

BofA coworkers, accustomed to the young hedge fund saleswoman’s “kookiness,” as she describes it, were intrigued but not surprised. Once they’d hatched, Hayward arranged for a rotation of colleagues to take the chicks home on weekends for their children to care for.

Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park in New York City
The Image Bank/Getty Images

Before the chickens, she was responsible for the disappearance of trash cans on trading floors. She’d wanted to boost recycling, so she worked with management and corporate services to remove garbage bins in both London and New York.

Then there was the time she organized a field trip for a group of colleagues — fellow green advocates as well as skeptics who didn’t believe recycling actually happened — to a facility in Brooklyn that processed Bank of America’s plastic, metal, and cardboard.

Bucking the mold of the anonymous corporate drone, Hayward consciously injected her personality into the workplace — something she says contributed to her more than a decade of success on Wall Street.

“I’d always been a finance person at work and a spiritual person and hippie outside of work,” Hayward told Insider. “They were always supportive.”

Hayward was raised on modest means in rural England in a family of teachers, artists, and healers. Her father is a Reiki master, the Japanese energy healing practice, and she became one as well in 2017. As the only financier in the family, she was the odd one. 

At BofA, leaders valued her unconventional way of thinking, she said. Her offbeat personality was also likely embraced because of her talent and production. She’d developed cozy, lucrative relationships with monster hedge funds from a very young age, a boon to the firm’s prime brokerage division.

She joined BofA’s then troubled franchise in 2015 from industry leader Morgan Stanley, raising eyebrows from colleagues. But she quickly made an impact, onboarding client balances and becoming a key contact with some of Europe’s largest hedge funds when she was just a VP, she said. She was promoted to director in prime brokerage sales in 2018 and a year later won the Women’s Bond Club Rising Star award.

After seven years at BofA, and more than a decade on Wall Street, she left this summer.

As a new mother, BofA had been supportive upon her return to the office following six months of maternity leave, she says, but she simply wanted to spend more time with her daughter during the early, formative years.

“When I had a baby, I couldn’t commit these years to working the same way I had previously,” Hayward said. “I ultimately wanted to be with my child.”

Laura Hayward
Laura Hayward

She’d also picked up a side hustle during her pregnancy she was eager to pursue. After her experience preparing for a natural home birth with a midwife — she ultimately delivered in the hospital after days of labor at home — she became qualified as a doula.

“You can’t be a doula and work at a bank,” she said. “Suddenly your client goes into labor and then you can’t go to work for 48 hours.”

She hasn’t ruled out a return to finance one day, but for now, in addition to raising her daughter, she’s growing her own business, called “Just Pause.” She’s had many clients as a doula in NYC and the Hamptons, including six births so far, and she also leads Reiki healing classes and practices animal therapy.

Here are five pieces of advice from Hayward for making it on Wall Street, from finding a mentor to being yourself and making your career goals known. 

Be yourself rather than blending in — lead with your differences.

Wall Street work life is stereotypically perceived as draconian — leaving little room for individuality. But Hayward said one of the most valuable things financiers can do is let their personality shine. 

“You see a lot of people coming in trying to toe the line and do the right things – but from my experience, the more you lead with your difference, the more opportunities follow,” Hayward said.

Hayward acknowledges that showing your true self at work should take place over time. “I wouldn’t say to a newcomer in the industry, ‘Just come in and let everything out of the bag’ before you’ve proven yourself,” she said. 

“First and foremost, you must do a good job,” she said — be a dependable, collaborative, and driven team member. “And once people see that you have substance, then I think your differences only enhance that.”

Hayward, who was a leader of Bank of America’s LGBTQ+ Pride Committee and is openly gay, said authenticity only strengthened her professional relationships.

“It shows extra dimensions and layers to the areas that you can connect with people, and it humanizes you,” said Hayward. “I never had a moment where I lived one version in one place and one version in another,” she said.

Her hack for forging relationships with senior staff? First, find genuine business reasons to be in front of them, and then use those opportunities to ask about their lives and what brought them there.

Showing a genuine interest in other colleagues’ lives — outside of conversations about deal flow and balance sheets — can go a long way, she added. 

“Everyone’s got a story of how they ended up in finance,” she said.

Find great mentors and hold them close. Then become one when you can. 

“Mentors have been invaluable in my career,” Hayward said. “It’s having someone to really approach, to give you guidance at key moments, and to share their insights of how they took their career.”

Built-in mentorship programs for young workers at big banks and firms are common. Those pairings — often random, sometimes not — can be fruitful. But finding a mentor is often more rewarding when it’s more personal, said Hayward.

A mentor should be someone at your company you really mesh with and feel you can talk freely to, she said — someone who understands your business line, but maybe isn’t directly in it. 

But actually finding a mentor in an industry like Wall Street — so deeply rooted in competitiveness and relentless production — is easier said than done. 

“I think finding a good mentor for anyone junior out there is best done organically,” said Hayward. 

If, for example, you go to a meeting and really click with a particular senior staffer, ask if you can put a monthly catch up on their calendar. She suggests being forthright and saying something like: “‘I really enjoyed getting to know you better'” or “‘I’ve always seen you as a mentor and I’d really appreciate your guidance on an ongoing basis.'”  

Hayward acknowledges that some people might feel awkward doing this, but says it’s sure to flatter the request recipient. 

“I’ve been so touched when people have said that to me,” she said.

Hayward’s first boss at Morgan Stanley, Stuart Bourne, became a fantastic mentor who kept going up in the finance world, she said. And after he moved to Bank of America, he later brought her along.

“You never know where some of your best sponsors and mentors will end up. And if you have a genuine connection with them that’s formed at the outset, they’re not gonna forget you when they are in those positions,” said Hayward.

Eventually, return the favor and become a mentor to someone else, Hayward says, especially if you identify as part of a minority group. Her experience working with young women in the field, she said, was extremely rewarding. 

“I love mentoring the next generation,” she said. “I saw my role as bigger than my day job.”

The key to leveling up is something called ‘active signaling.’ 

In every career advice session, finance industry or otherwise, Hayward says there’s almost always one panel speaker or PowerPoint slide saying something along the lines of “Take every opportunity!” She laughs at this. 

“Yeah, of course I’ll take it, but how do I get offered it?” said Hayward. 

The part that’s overlooked in such mentoring sessions, according to her, is a lesson on exactly how to show dedication, interest, and competence to the people who matter.

“It’s not as easy as just doing a really good job quietly on your own and thinking it’s gonna get noticed,” she said. “And it’s also not just sitting on the floor until midnight because you think someone’s gonna see you there.”

You should make your goals clear, but not by literally saying “I want this big job.” 

“You want to ask for what you want, but you want to do it with evidence and context,” Hayward said. She calls the technique “active signaling.”

How you perform the day-to-day duties of your job is the most important way to show your work ethic, but what can set you up to land a role on a big project is “doing something slightly unexpected of you.” 

“It’s just asking for that little bit more than you are doing that shows you as someone who’s driven,” said Hayward. 

For example: Come up with and take ownership of a project that interests you and is beyond your role — perhaps it’s something aligned with the firm’s cultural initiatives or a newly deployed regulation. Use it as a platform to have conversations with managers and mentors where you can proactively signal interest in the area and in others. 

When the time comes, higher-ups will remember that ambition and initiative and think of you for other opportunities.

Don’t get stuck —  tough market conditions are an opportunity.

Hayward began her Wall Street career in the aftermath of the financial crisis, starting with a  year-long internship in the prime brokerage finance group at Morgan Stanley 2009, when banks were still shaky from being on the edge of a financial-system collapse the year before. She was thrown onto the front lines, working with sales staff to communicate price increases to hedge fund clients — difficult conversations that were happening daily at that time — and managing internal requests to reallocate assets clients had posted as collateral. 

Because she had never lived through an economic bubble, she was able to adapt to the environment quickly, she said. She could work  “without this preconceived notion of, well, our spreads aren’t gonna be as strong as they used to be, or like, now we’re re-pricing clients and pricing is higher,” she said.

But she saw colleagues who were unable to move forward because they were still stuck in the “good old days” before the crisis, she said.  

Today’s bankers and traders  are living a transition that echoes that time, Hayward said. But she thinks the current market downturn — which CEO Jamie Dimon predicted may evolve into a “hurricane” of a recession — is an opportunity for young Wall Street workers to seize in the same way she did.

Wall Street upstarts  should use their inexperience as an approach to less-than-ideal market conditions and to a avoid negative mindset — it’s advantageous that they have “fresh eyes to take the best of what came before, and also no set preconceived notions that make them lethargic in shifting to new ways of looking at the world,” said Hayward.

Make time for yourself — it will make you a better professional.

In a notoriously grueling industry with a hustle mentality, taking vacations or personal time off can feel taboo, said Hayward. She chuckled as she recalled colleagues who wouldn’t use their vacation time, even over the holidays. But making time for yourself will only make you a better employee when you return to the floor, she said.

“I think the more that you develop yourself personally, the more you bring that to work professionally.”

During her years on Wall Street, she juggled her work self and personal self, viewing them as “two parts in parallel” rather than completely separate lives. 

“I never had a moment where I lived one version in one place and one version in another. It comes through authentically.”

That included shutting her computer off for trips to places that are largely off the grid, including the Sacred Valley in Peru.

“Just make time for you,” she said. “The more that you live authentically outside of the work, the more easy it is to encourage that into your workday.”

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