From Intern to Managing Director (and Mom of Five!)

20 JUL 2023

Shekhinah Bass, a managing director in Human Capital Management, describes her path to Goldman Sachs, career growth at the firm, and life as a working mom.

During my undergrad years at Cornell University, I never imagined becoming a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs—mostly because I had plans to go to law school after graduation, but partly because I didn’t actually know what Goldman Sachs was, until my then boyfriend (now husband) Derrick interned with the firm.

As Derrick told me more and more about his experience at GS and encouraged me to apply, I didn’t initially understand how my academic background in industrial and labor relations would fit within an investment banking firm. After conducting some research, I stumbled upon the diversity page on Soon enough, I was walking through the doors of 85 Broad Street (GS headquarters at the time), as a summer intern in Human Capital Management (HCM). I loved my experience, my team, and our projects, but my plan was to go to law school, so I turned down the offer to return. My recruiter at the time gave me a call, and suggested I talk to my mentors to think through the opportunity. Through those conversations, I came to realize that becoming a lawyer wasn’t the only way to pursue my passion of standing up for people, including diverse professionals, and having an impact on society at large– I could do that “in-house.” Once I recognized that what I wanted to do was possible at Goldman Sachs, I decided to build my “HR portfolio”– I’ve now been in HCM for 17 years!

My first role as an analyst allowed me to dive deep into the diversity and inclusion space. Then, wanting to see how the firm embeds diversity in other aspects of HCM’s work, I moved into Talent Assessment. After that, I served as chief of staff to the global head of HCM. Bringing that expertise to my next role, I became head of Performance Management – a team I had grown up on. I now lead Talent Strategy – focused on bringing together areas across HCM and the firm to enhance and develop solutions to positively impact the experience of our people. Those experiences have been possible because of the firm’s support of mobility – and thanks to countless people who encouraged me to always pursue the next challenge. 

Along with my career, my personal life changed in ways I never would have imagined. I still remember when Derrick and I found out we were expecting our first child. It was right after I accepted a new role, and I suddenly wondered if I was making the right decision. When I met with my new managers, any anxiety I had about becoming a mom while transitioning into a new role at work immediately disappeared. My managers were so supportive, during my first pregnancy, and the four others to follow. With each new parenting leave, I became more confident in my approach to facilitating handoffs and ensuring my team felt empowered to move things forward in my absence.

Becoming a mom while working at Goldman Sachs also showed me that the firm has so many benefits that you don’t really take the time to look into until you’re in a position to need them. I learned quickly that these benefits are not mainstream – and I’m grateful I was able to take advantage of so many firm offerings.

Even with those resources, I won’t deny that coming back from leave is challenging, even when you’ve been through it before. There are so many unknowns – how will we sort out daycare? What will commuting and pickups look like? What new projects will I be working on? What new leaders and team members will I need to meet? And how will I do all of these things successfully? But I’ve learned that change is the only constant, and even if initially you don’t feel like you’re operating at the same level you were before going out, it’s important to remind yourself that you’re not the same person you were before you left. You’re a new individual with new priorities and responsibilities, whether you are a first, or fifth-time parent.

If you give yourself some time and some grace – because it truly is a process to on-ramp – you’ll ease your way back in. Allow yourself the time to reconnect with colleagues, mentors, and mentees who can give you the lay of the land and help get you oriented. As you count the weeks, eventually it does click again, the fog begins to clear and you find your rhythm. Before you know it (for me it has ranged from 2-3 months), you’ll be swept back into the fast-paced excitement and start wondering, did I ever leave?

As a mom of five, I’ve learned to let go of guilt. I now integrate my professional and personal lives, because that’s what works for me. It’s OK to check e-mails while nursing, just like it’s OK to step away in the middle of the day to cheer on my little ones as they perform for spirit day. One recent example of balance came during my fifth pregnancy, when I had to go on a business trip to Salt Lake City but also wanted to spend time with my oldest daughter before the baby’s arrival. I took her with me for a girls’ trip, and we spent time together in the evenings and during the weekend. She now wants to work at Goldman Sachs!

Goldman Sachs has become part of my life story – in more ways than one. What I’ve learned is that while it may be helpful to have a plan, if you are open to the experiences that come to you and stay true to who you are and what you want to prioritize in life, you might be pleasantly surprised where you end up.