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“It’s about engaging at all levels, not just the top.” How Morgan Stanley’s commitment to diversity is empowering women.

Morgan Stanley is all about the three Cs: collaboration, communication and coordination. This is very much reflected in its approach to diversity, particularly when it’s championing the cause of its female workforce.

“It’s a very collegiate atmosphere here. People want to help you learn and grow,” says Sonali Siriwardena, an Executive Director in the Institutional Equities Division of Morgan Stanley. “Whether you’re in a junior role or a senior executive, all views and ideas are valued.”

A shining example of this collaborative approach is the Women’s Business Alliance (WBA), which is the largest network in the Firm. Its mandate is to encourage the career development of women within Morgan Stanley. But it’s not just about the female staff members working together; engaging male colleagues in the discussion is equally important in closing the gender gap.

“We need to partner with men and women across all corporate levels to foster a sense of community and champion the cause of addressing any in-balance within the Firm or the wider financial industry,” says Siriwardena, who has been a member of the WBA since she joined Morgan Stanley in 2011.

This stretches all the way to the top of the Firm; new Head of EMEA Clare Woodman is a vocal champion of diversity and inclusion and has mandated all heads of business to proactively work to address the gender imbalance at senior ranks.

“This translates into key performance indicators for senior management – how they manage their teams and how gender is represented within their core function and wider division,” adds Siriwardena.

Internal mobility is another key focus for Morgan Stanley and Siriwardena is a good example of this fact. A lawyer by training, she recently transferred from the Legal Division to Institutional Equities. “One of the advantages of working in a big Firm such as Morgan Stanley is that there are often opportunities to move internally if you are willing to explore new challenges,” says Siriwardena.

Naomi Strong has worked her way up through the Firm from a summer intern to an Executive Director in the Sales and Trading Division within the space of just nine years. She is proud to have made this progress thanks to her ability and work ethic, combined with the support of Morgan Stanley’s market-leading equities franchise and the leaders within it. But she is equally proud of the fact that “There’s now a healthy split of 50/50 men and women in the graduate scheme across many divisions, which wasn’t the case when I joined, so positive progress is being made.”

But both she and Siriwardena concede there’s more to do. “The split in my division on our graduate programmes is 50/50, and while some areas aren’t quite there yet, our target across the Firm in EMEA is 50/50.  We are also working hard to ensure it is reflected in our experienced hiring at senior levels. We partner with Human Resources to increase the hiring and retention of women at all levels. We organise numerous career development events and access to senior role models. Most importantly we help women increase and leverage their internal and external networks.”

At the end of last year, Morgan Stanley announced that under the UK’s Shared Parental Leave policy, individuals who share the main responsibility for childcare will now be entitled to the same level of benefit in the first six months. This was in addition to doubling paternity leave to four weeks. “This allows women to continue their career, and can hopefully shift the culture in terms of the mind-set,” says Strong.

This flexibility also extends to working practices. There is an acknowledgement within the Firm that flexible working is doable, as long as jobs are completed. “With new technology, your role doesn’t have to involve sitting at a desk all day,” says Strong. “The Firm encourages us to have a manageable work-life mix and excel in our careers.”

Siriwardena has even managed to complete two Ironman Triathlons (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a marathon) recently. “It’s not the race that kills you, it’s the training,” she laughs. “But my team have been very supportive throughout. I’ve raised money for several charities and the Firm recognised my efforts by contributing through a matched funding programme.”

In addition to the WBA, Morgan Stanley also has a further seven employee diversity networks to enhance employee engagement and advance the Firm’s overall culture of inclusion from the Pride & Ally Network to the African and Caribbean Business Alliance. “People are encouraged to interact, learn and support each other and proactively build relationships outside of their immediate business area.” says Siriwardena.

The Diversity Action Council (DAC) acts as a catalyst to drive forward the diversity strategy and agenda in EMEA. It comprises some 20 Managing Directors who meet monthly to discuss strategic diversity initiatives across all business lines. The DAC recently held a series of small-group sessions to talk openly about progress made and get ideas on future focus areas. It’s not just a top down strategy, but about engaging everyone,” stresses Strong.

Each staff member is valued, no matter what their education, background or views. “This goes a huge way to nurturing a person both as a professional and a human being,” says Siriwardena. “I don’t feel stifled to fit in or conform to a particular norm. We are all competent technically, but it is more about how we work together to enrich the Firm’s culture with diverse views and insights.”

Strong agrees. “You don’t have to be a particular type of person to succeed here. We are all quite different. But that diversity of thought is exactly what makes us more effective with clients and has helped us grow leading businesses.”

“We can also push boundaries and continue learning together. Even with all the technological and regulatory changes happening in our industry, this is still a people business, and they are our greatest asset.”

You can find out more about opportunities available at Morgan Stanley here



AUTHORMorgan Stanley

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