Editor’s note: CorporateQ is a series that showcases how queers are dressing their authentic selves in the workplace. In this interview with dapperQ, financial advisor Mariam Adams discusses dressing dapper in the financial sector. Photos courtesy Mariam Adams.
Mariam Adams is a senior financial advisor who leads a successful wealth management practice at Merrill Lynch in New York City. Mariam is unique in that she prioritizes building meaningful relationships with her clients first and foremost, while providing top-tier advice and guidance to help people achieve their financial aspirations. The majority of the clients she works with are LGBTQ+ families and individuals.
Mariam chairs the NYC Chapter of Merrill Lynch’s LGBTQ National Team and is the line of business leader for Bank of America’s NYC Pride Leadership Council. She serves as Board Treasurer for the Ali Forney Center, the nation’s largest organization dedicated to homeless LGBTQ youth. She is also on the Board of Advisors for the Gender and Family Project (GFP), which provides gender-inclusive and affirmative training, consultation, and educational resources to gender non-conforming youth and their families. Mariam lives in Brooklyn with her wife and two daughters.
dapperQ: How is “dress code” and style in finance different from other industries, such as tech or beauty and fashion? Do you think the “finance standard” limits or allows for flexibility when dressing outside the binary?
Mariam: Finance and wealth management have long been (and still are) dominated by heterosexual cis-gendered white men, and so it’s no surprise that the standard attire is very much cis-gendered corporate. I’m used to seeing the stereotype advisor alternate between two “uniforms”: the conservative suit and tie or a button down with a fleece vest. As a whole, the industry is slowly moving toward more inclusion, diversity, and POC and LGBTQ+ representation, but it needs more people like us to propel it forward. It’s been important for me personally to introduce queer and POC representation, either through my own personal practice with LGBTQ+ individuals and families or through some of my community development efforts with organizations like Ali Forney Center and The Gender & Family Project. In time, perhaps we can add a new “uniform” or two to the mix.
dapperQ: How has your queer presentation/style impacted your work experience, either in a positive or negative way? Do you believe you have been able to be your most authentic self? If so, do you think you have been able to make a positive impact?
Mariam: How I should present to clients and colleagues concerned me for a long time, hence pencil dresses for my hetero clients and tailored suits for everyone else. Then 2016 happened and with it the massive resurgence of homophobic and racist rhetoric. I needed to rebel and presenting authentically felt rebellious. I walked into the office in my favorite black skinny jeans, a gray velvet blazer, and black pencil tie. Wow, sounds less dramatic as I say it now, but it felt like a real statement then.
An amazing thing happened – or rather, didn’t happen. All my fears of rejection and judgment never came to fruition. It just worked, and I felt accepted and embraced, actually. Clients and colleagues started coming to me for personal and sometimes intimate advice beyond just the financial, and we were able to develop even deeper levels of trust and connection that has enabled me to better serve them in every capacity. And as a bonus, my appearance immediately weeds out any people who don’t align with my values or the values of the LGBTQ+ movement as a whole.
I definitely believe the seemingly minor act of “being me” has sent small ripples throughout our local finance and LGBTQ+ communities, and I hope those ripples turn into waves. I continue to encourage everyone who can do it safely to be their authentic selves at work.
dapperQ: Tell us a bit about your style. Who are your style icons and where do you pull inspiration from?
Mariam: I am a huge fan of sartorial dressing and suiting! For most of my life I was not into fashion simply because I couldn’t connect with the choices I felt were available to me. I did always long to dress like Ellen DeGeneres and Ricky Martin, but that didn’t seem like an option. So I was apathetic about my clothes. When I later had the luxury and freedom to put on a suit or a shirt perfectly tailored to my body, I finally understood the power of fashion. And I found my style: androgynous, masculine forward, tailored, polished, clean lines… Lately, I’m obsessed with Caroline Issa’s suits. Swap out her heels and long hair for a nice pair of oxfords and clean-cut fade, and it’s the perfect androgynous look.
I have to admit though, shopping for myself isn’t always fun. The fashion industry is scarce when it comes to genderless fashion, especially masculine-presenting suiting that doesn’t hang off my body. People ask me all the time where I shop and honestly that matters less – what they should probably ask is, “Where did you get your tailoring done?” because I almost never wear off the rack clothes. I’m a huge fan of buying myself a less expensive suit and splurging on tailoring to achieve the fit and look I want. While things may go out of style, a suit or jacket that fits you just right will always be trendy. It’s a very worthy investment.
dapperQ: What can we expect next from you?
I’m really thrilled because I’ve just recently expanded my team and have introduced another non-binary individual to the wealth-management family. Together, our very existence sparks exciting dialogue around gender non-conforming individuals in finance. We are hoping to encourage others – whether LGBTQ+ or not – to express themselves through fashion more freely and chip away at the traditional finance stereotype.
I will of course always remain involved in the non-profits serving our community. Right now, it’s the Ali Forney Center and The Gender & Family Project where I use my knowledge and skill set in finance to help in any way I can. Moving forward, my goal is to connect more leaders in the industry to more LGBTQ+ non-profits.
It’s all about spreading the wealth!