The Best Way to Attract and Retain Top Talent, According to Morgan Stanley’s Carla Harris

Carla Harris, Vice Chairman of Wealth Management at Morgan Stanley, with Fairygodboss Co-Founder Romy Newman.

Carla Harris, Vice Chairman of Wealth Management at Morgan Stanley (r.), with Fairygodboss Co-Founder Romy Newman. Photo: Krisanne Johnson

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For many companies, diversity and inclusion are top of mind. But identifying what it takes to actually achieve equality in the workplace — and effectively implementing the strategies to make that happen — is no easy feat. The annual Fairygodboss GALVANIZE summit was created to help business leaders do just that. Held Oct. 15-16 in New York City, GALVANIZE: Making Women’s Resource Groups Powerful brought together 200+ executives and Employee Resource Group leaders to identify actionable ways in which we can effectively address the most pressing needs of women in the workplace. 

Carla Harris, Vice Chairman of Wealth Management at Morgan Stanley, kicked off the event by speaking candidly about her own experiences. She began her career at Morgan Stanley more than three decades ago, so she knows firsthand what it takes for a company to successfully attract and retain top talent. In fact, what initially drew her to Morgan Stanley is what’s kept her there for the past 30 years: “One thing stood out about Morgan Stanley,” she recalled. When she was first introduced to the bank as a young adult, “everybody I met was different from the last person I met. I thought, ‘There’s a lot of different equations that equal success in this place — surely there will be one for me.’ Where you’re going to be long term successful is where you can really be you.”

Harris, who spoke with Fairygodboss Co-Founder and President Romy Newman, emphasized the importance of being able to bring your whole, authentic self to work. “The fact that I could be and have a voice [at Morgan Stanley]” has been critical to her trajectory, she said.

Another factor key to retaining women is sponsorship, Harris said. She recalled that when she began her career, everyone seemed to be talking about mentorship. “But I realized it was about having a sponsor — the person who, behind closed doors, will say, ‘you ought to get that promotion,’” she said. “Nobody was talking about it at that time. I was always conscious about who [was] carrying my paper into the room.” 

Harris explained that when she was working as an associate, and she and her peers were discussing the analysts who were coming up behind them, her fellow associates might refer to an analyst as a “superstar” or a “disaster.” 

“The weight of the voice in the room [carried] the day,” Harris said. “I thought, ‘Who is going to speak for me?’”

Considering the fact that there are currently more CEOs named John than there are women CEOs, sponsorship is a particularly important component to leveling the playing field for men and women at work. 

Now that she’s in a position of power, Harris certainly pays it forward — and she’s adamant that everyone who has a voice at the table follow suit. “I make sure that I use my power, because I feel strongly that there’s no point in having it if you don’t spend it,” she said. 

At Morgan Stanley, one way Harris and her colleagues use their power is through intentionality. They make a point of being deliberate about their diversity and inclusion strategy. “Be demonstrative in saying it’s a part of your strategy,” she advised, adding that if you’re hiring, make it a rule to interview at least a few women and people of color — not just one — for each role.

This intentionality is increasingly relevant for companies that want to attract and retain top talent, Harris noted, as diversity and equality has become more of the norm. “As [baby] boomers, we were OK with being the only [woman] in the room because there was no choice. But millennials and younger generations need to see [women in leadership], because they have seen it their entire lives. That’s what excellence looks like to them,” she said.