Skip navigation
Kay Lynn Mayhue with her son
Kay Lynn Mayhue and her son.

How Adopting My Son Has Made Me a Better Leader

Is there a junior talent pipeline program your firm is willing to invest in?

How many moments in the past few years have made you stop and question your privilege? Like many, I’ll admit that those moments have continued to increase as I gain more perspective and advance in my career.

As the mother of five children and the president of a large and growing wealth management practice, I keep a keen eye on my people’s personal and professional development. By asking them questions and finding ways to lend a helping hand, I’ve witnessed tremendous growth over the past few years as they’ve approached adulthood or navigated their careers. But there’s one particular detail about my life that has yielded incredible insight: the fact that my oldest son is a Black man who my husband and I met and adopted as he was aging out of the foster care system. While I didn’t have a privileged upbringing by any means, I know that as a white female, I had plenty of advantages solely because of the color of my skin.

Over the last few years, our son has been an official member of our family, and I’ve noticed a shift in my leadership style. My son has opened my eyes to many things that have made me a better leader. While not every financial planning professional will consider foster care or adoption, there are certainly lessons they can apply from my experience to help close the wealth gap in their professional capacity.

Considering New Possibilities

A few Decembers ago, my firm was hosting a holiday gathering for our employees and their families. Unbeknownst to me, it was my oldest son’s first time in an office environment. He was incredulous about the space, and his wonder spurred a larger conversation about the work we did in the office and the power of money management. Growing up, his work exposure had been to the likes of dollar stores or fast food restaurants. None of his knowledge to date about what it meant to be a working person had ever included the importance of building credit or the myriad other foundational building blocks that my other children had grown up knowing.

I found myself going down a rabbit hole of the absolute privilege my husband and I had provided our other four children throughout their lives. For example, when my oldest daughter, who is similarly aged, needed a tutor, she got one. SAT Prep? No problem. She learned a lot about the rigorous college admissions process through the sports competitions we shuttled her to over the years. She, alongside my other children, had been provided a solid foundation to set them up for success in the real world since birth. My eldest son did not have the same experience.

When his car wouldn’t start a few months later, the cost to repair his battery would have caused him to lose transportation to work, potentially threatening his livelihood. Things my family took for granted, like paying off a simple car repair, can be devastating to someone living paycheck-to-paycheck or in debt. Of course, we took care of it for him, but what would he have done if we hadn’t? The snowball effect was suddenly at our doorstep.

Making a Difference

My son’s moment at the Merit offices early on in our relationship has impacted me. As the financial planning industry seeks to hire next-generation and diverse talent, we must take a comprehensive approach to finding those candidates.

I think of the questions we don’t ask during the interview process, like whether the candidate needs any transportation or housing assistance if they have to relocate. I wonder why they may have worked through school; was it because they had to, or they wanted to? How has that experience affected them?

Today, my oldest son manages one of the busiest chain pizza shops in Atlanta, putting in 50-70 hours per week on top of his schooling. Although he now has financial and emotional support from our family, he has not wavered in his commitment to excellence, to push himself further. This has opened my eyes and others at Merit about what we need to do to attract diverse candidates and build the workforce we seek.

Committing to Intentionality and Leading with Empathy

Along our journey, many healing moments continue to strengthen our familial relationship and his professional advancement. I’d argue they also offer a solid reminder to employers that many young professionals (and older ones, too, for that matter) continue to carry residual trauma with them in the office.

It’s become crystal clear to me that this is an invisible issue woven into the fabric of our modern workplace. While we can’t erase past trauma, we can work through it. To that point, employers should approach employees from a lens of empathy and understanding. Get to know the people in your office and ask them about their stories. Meet them where they are.

Unless we are intentional about learning about the people we’re looking to bring into our organizations, we won’t find common ground. Adopting my son has changed me for the better as a mother, but even more so as a leader. This experience has far outweighed any leadership courses I’ve taken, books I’ve read or conference sessions I’ve sat in on.

The great news is that wealth management professionals have plenty of opportunities to make a difference. Creating a chance for someone by considering non-traditional hires starts with examining your current hiring practices. How are candidates recommended to your firm, and where are you actively seeking them? During the interview process, are you finding unique ways to connect to their personal history and understand how their background has shaped them as a person and a professional? Have you fully considered the extra resources they may need to come on board, like transportation or relocation costs?

Is there a junior talent pipeline program your firm is willing to invest in? If so, consider paid internships to help students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds work and learn alongside your firm. In this day and age, we can no longer promote unpaid internships.

At Merit, we’re looking at the breadth of our civic engagement—like our work with Together With Families, a nonprofit that designs and implements foster care diversion programs  – and expanding the academic partnerships we seek to improve our talent pipeline. That means incorporating trade schools or community colleges alongside traditional four-year universities. More work remains here, and we’re working daily to improve our efforts.

I’ve always said that my oldest son has given me far more than we’ve ever given him. I’m proud to share that he is now majoring in business. One internship or office visit can indeed change someone’s life. 

Kay Lynn Mayhue is President of Merit Financial

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.