Opening up to the boss about a disability
Rachel Gerring loved working as an accountant for professionalservices firm EY’s audit practice in Minneapolis.
When her first child, Eliza, was born in 2007,
she took a four-month maternity leave, and then went back to work. But after a few months back, she knew something was very wrong.
“I found myself struggling to get out of bed in the morning. Once I arrived at work, I would close the door and cry for 30 minutes every morning,” she recalls. “I muscled through, but it was difficult to get things done. I was in a dark place.”
No one at work raised any issues about her performance, but she knew she wasn’t right—on the job or at home. She started to see a counselor, who told her she had a serious case of postpartum depression and needed treatment, including a leave of absence.
It was audit season, the busiest time of the year for her team, and she felt as though she was abandoning her co-workers, but she knew she had no choice.
Rachel is the main breadwinner in her family, so leaving the job wasn’t an option. She decided to trust her boss, a man who had been her mentor and her supporter. “I felt safe in telling him. I knew that he would be respectful of the information. He was incredibly empathetic and just listened intently. He told me he had noticed my weight loss but didn’t realize what was going on,” she says.
He connected her with the EY Assist program, and she was put on a four-month paid leave. While doctors were evaluating her for antidepressants, she found out she was pregnant again.
“It was a double whammy, but I got through it.” She returned for a couple of months, and then took another maternity leave for her second daughter, Willa.
The therapy and medications saved her life— and her career; she was promoted to partner in 2013, and now is a partner with the firm’s Southeast Regional Growth Markets. She told a few close friends at work but didn’t share the story openly— because, she says, “I didn’t know how people would look at me”—until two years ago, when EY started an awareness campaign on non-apparent disabilities, such as mental illness. The program has two prongs: urging employees with disabilities to consider self-identifying so they can get support, and helping all employees understand how to start dialogues with people, especially those with mental illness, so they can help.
“I would like to think that it’s easy at EY, but it isn’t easy anywhere when you are depressed. Putting on your shoes isn’t easy, let alone this. But at EY, our business is our people (as consultants), and we need our people to feel comfortable to be themselves every day,” she says, referring to the inclusive environment at the organization that affects all employees.