Fearless Women of Wall Street
How two queer women of color are bringing fresh air to finance
12.21.17 - ELIZABETH STILES
The first time I met Dorothy Wu, it was in the lobby of our children’s preschool. Our relationship built in five-minute chunks in that room, mother to mother — sleepless nights soothing sore throats, mind numbing theme songs — but also as working professionals.
It’s over a cup of coffee, Wu’s recommendation, that conversation circled back to our backgrounds. There was a Brown alumni meeting I was reluctant to go to, more out of laziness than anything. If you go back far enough, I once attended the same preschool I now send my child to.
Wu hesitates when talking about her early life. She loves her maternal grandmother, the woman who raised her, deeply. And she wants her daughter to feel connected to where she came from.
“It’s hard, you know?” Wu said. “I’m proud of the work I do, that I’ve gotten to this point, and I did it all for her. For our family. But at the same time, I don’t want her to lose sight of reality.”
Her approach to childrearing is much like her approach to business. Thorough. Methodical. Directing the bright flame of inspiration from her partner, in life and in business, Ramona Vega.
If you have even half an ear directed towards Wall Street, you’ve heard the noise their company, Destiny, is making. And talking to these women face-to-face makes it clear what makes their rise, even as pillars of American finance stall out, even more noteworthy.
The call and the email happened more or less simultaneously. There was a ding, indicating a message from HR, and by the time Dorothy’s done reading, her ears were ringing so loud that it took until at least the third ring for it to resonate. Her hand jerked, and she had to breathe in once before allowing herself to answer.
“Hello, Dorothy speaking,” she said.
“Hi, Ms. Wu? This is Candace, from Prominence Enrichment? Lessons ended nearly forty-five minutes ago now, and Juliet is still here waiting to be picked up.”
It took a moment for it to even make sense; surely Manuela would never just leave Juliet without calling them. But they had given her a winter break, talked it through, and Ramona had said she would take care of it—
“Yes, ma’am, we called her three times, and they all went to voicemail.”
“Alright. Okay,” Dorothy responded. “Thank you for calling. And for watching Juliet, I know you’re not supposed to—okay. I’ll heading out of my office now, I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
She was shoving her laptop, cords, folders into her purse before she even got off the call, patting the pockets of her Mackage coat. Dorothy’s always prized herself in being able to stay cool under pressure. Maybe not smooth, but cool. Forgetting their kid? This. This tested her.
Where the fuck was Ramona?
“Hey, Mercedes, can you hold things down for the rest of the night? I need to go pick up Juliet from her tutor,” Dorothy said, and before she got a response, she continued, “Have you seen Ramona at all today?”
“Nope,” Mercedes said. “Or, I mean, definitely yes to the first one, but no, no Ramona today, except for that email—”
“Great. Thank you so much.”
Her fingers were vices on the Escalade’s steering wheel, easy riding experience be fucked. The email. They’d been looking for a new hire. Dorothy wasn’t thrilled about the applicant pool, but a few had potential. Dawn was an early cut. One who Ramona had already sent an offer letter and started HR on her enrollment.
It’s surreal, how easily a splinter can penetrate the skin of their business, but Dorothy can feel it, like the head of an infection.
She called Ramona with the car’s Bluetooth. Dorothy could already hear the fight.
“She’s a fucking mess, are you kidding me?” she’d say.
“There are people who said the same damn thing about me twenty years ago,” Ramona would respond.
Okay, Dorothy thought, and there are limits to sensible generosity. Especially right now. Especially with our business. Our family. Can’t you feel it?
The call went to voicemail. A cold chill passed through Dorothy, even through the coat and the climate control—it came from somewhere in her gut. She wasn’t sure if it was better or worse that concern for Ramona’s safety didn’t really enter her mind. Dorothy knew she was fine. Just nowhere to be found.
Leaving a little earlier meant she missed the worst of the exodus traffic, not that it meant too much in New York. Idly, Dorothy regret the push she made for living in the suburbs. When she first met Ramona, her and Juliet were still living in Manhattan, and it worked for them, but Dorothy still had these romantic ideas about communities, belonging, neighborhood block parties.
In reality, it mostly meant an HOA that very politely made them tear up their hibiscus last summer.
Juliet was doing her best not to look bothered, face buried in her phone. To her tutor, a young twenty-something, maybe not even out of school properly yet, Dorothy said, “Thank you so much for looking out for her, I’m doubling your Christmas tip, I swear.”
“Oh, that’s really not necessary—”
Dorothy rolled up the window and pulled away from the curb. She glanced at Juliet in the back mirror, the pink surrounding her eyes. Normally, she wasn’t a hard kid to talk to, figure out how to help. She asked, “You hungry at all?”
“No,” Juliet said.
“Anything fun happen at school?”
No response. Dorothy let it lie, the road home quiet.
It was deep in the night when Ramona returned home, late enough to let the anger and contempt to give way to nerves. Dorothy recognized Ramona’s car pulling up, the sound of her steps on their front porch, the rattle of the doorknob when she tried to enter before unlocking it.
Dorothy lost the fight before the words came out. Just at the look on Ramona’s face. There was nothing to say, but still, from Dorothy’s lips spilled, “What the fuck, Ramona?”
Business. Networking. Everything worked out, didn’t it?
Lily always slept like the dead. She didn’t stir when Dorothy opened her bedroom door, nudged her closer to the wall, slid into bed behind her, pulling the covers up to their necks. Dorothy didn’t want to risk waking her, but she couldn’t help but brush Lily’s hair back, skim her fingers across her cheek, kiss the crown of her head.
Her daughter. Sometimes, the weight of that still choked her up. How desperately she wanted to take care of her, how precarious it felt, even in that big beautiful house.
Dorothy woke up to singing, to the tune of Happy Birthday but instead singing thank you, mom- my, thank you mom -my, thank you mom-myyyy, thank you mommy, led by Ramona, who leaned down to lie on Dorothy, a secretive kiss to her jaw, flanked by their daughters, not nearly as quiet with their affection.
When they made their way downstairs, there was a breakfast banquet waiting for them, more presents under the tree than Dorothy remembered buying or approving, and Ramona promising, “We’re not going into the office today, or tomorrow, or the day after that. It’s family time.”
And when both of the girls have been distracted their phones or TV or whatever else trivial things they couldn’t help but spoil them with, Ramona pulled Dorothy close once more.
“I’m so proud of you, us, for what we’ve made of our lives. You know I’d do anything for you, right? For this family? I love you so, so much. We’ve got this.”
The edition that Elizabeth sent over had been burning a hole through their kitchen counter for days. Dorothy couldn’t bear to read it. She liked Elizabeth. Trusted her. Knew she was a smart woman.
The week the story was meant to go into publication, Dorothy called her and said, “So, um, I don’t—I don’t know about some of the details I shared about my early career. The stripping. Can I, like, recant that part?”
And there were the sounds of Elizabeth retreating from the sounds of her own family—Dorothy already sequestered in their master suite, swearing she was going to soak and listen to a backlog of podcasts—before she said, “Are you’re sure about this? It seemed like a significant part of your story.”
Significant. Like it wasn’t where her and Ramona got their seed money, their contacts, where they met, that first night on the roof wrapped up in each other and Ramona’s furs. The truth of it shivered through her.
After a minute of listening to Dorothy sniffling, Elizabeth added, gently, “I think it’s a really noble. The honesty.”
A strangled noise escaped Dorothy’s throat, once. “I know, I know. It’s just, I don’t want it to be the first thing that comes up when our kids Google us, you know? Or anyone at their schools, it’s just—you know.”
Elizabeth didn’t make promises. Said some things about the ethics of journalism that made sense. Dorothy still felt cold, even as Elizabeth said, “But I know this is sensitive. It’s your life.”
Dorothy could imagine the things Ramona said, with all her bravados, but, really, she wasn’t ashamed, or if she was, the person she needed permission from wasn’t Elizabeth, or anyone like her — the type who read her magazine. It was their life. It made sense. Dorothy could see their life, laid flat. She didn’t need to read it in print, too.