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#LinkageWIL Inspiration Series: Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley, on Who Gets a Seat at the Table

August 31, 2020 Deana LaFauci

In this series, we unpack one inspiring quote from an exceptional leader who will appear at Linkage’s Virtual Women in Leadership Institute™ on November 912, 2020.

COVID-19 arrived quickly—and never left. One changed season has quickly become two, and as we head into fall in the United States, we are still grappling with what this unprecedented health crisis means for all of us.

Here is what we know for sure: This crisis has disproportionately impacted women. As women are forced to take on more, with fewer resources and little support, many are having to make hard decisions about their professional lives. The UN warns that we are at a critical moment when the progress of the past two decades could be reversed.

This isn’t new. We already know that women are stretched too thin and are often unfairly compensated. They take on the majority of the housework and the childcare, they are less likely to be promoted, and they are still not being paid the same pay for the same work as men.

This is especially true for women of color. On average, a Black woman in the United States must work more than 220 extra days to earn the same salary as a white man. And Black women are much less likely to be promoted. Although they represent 7.4% of the US population, they represent just 1.6% of VP roles. White men represent 35% of the US population, but 57% of VP roles.

These numbers are from before COVID-19 hit. This health and economic crisis will inevitably worsen the existing inequities in our systems and disproportionately impact women of color.

What do we do about this? How can we rise to the moment to empower women and other underrepresented groups to continue to lean into their work and advance in the workplace, when the stakes have never been higher?

First, we look to the inspirational leaders among us who are leading the way. Carla Harris is one such leader.

As Vice Chairman, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley, Carla Harris is responsible for increasing client connectivity and penetration to enhance revenue generation across the firm, and she was appointed by President Barack Obama to chair the National Women’s Business Council in 2013.

As a Black woman who has navigated the leadership ladder in an industry historically dominated by white males, she is a trailblazer. She understands the importance of bringing diverse talent to the table and is a fierce champion for the advancement of women and people of color within the financial services industry. She also serves as a thought leader on how to close the diversity gap in wealth management.

In this first installment of the #LinkageWIL Inspiration series, we are unpacking Carla’s insight on how we can create and support a pipeline of diverse leaders:

Create other leaders. Give them the opportunities to fail. Give them the opportunities to succeed. Say, ‘I need to make sure that this person gets to the next level.’ Check your roster of people you are sponsoring and mentoring—if that is not a diverse list, then check yourself.” – Carla Harris

Why this is so important in 2020: There is much work to be done to build and support diverse talent ranks and leadership pipelines, but with the right resources and strategy, executive leaders and organizations can meet and exceed their equity goals. COVID-19 has made everything harder, and as we grapple with the impact of this crisis, organizations and leaders must deftly act to reenvision and recommit to their strategies to advance women and other underrepresented groups.

Here’s how organizations can advance women and other underrepresented groups in 2020:

1. Ask questions and get access to the data you need to make informed decisions.

This work is too important not to be measured, but your data collection cannot begin and end with a simple employee survey. Organizations need access to leading indicators to give them predictive insights on their workforce. We can’t afford to wait for high-performing women and other members of underrepresented groups to leave an organization before we act. And, we simply can’t build a thoughtful and results-driven strategy to advance underrepresented groups without understanding what’s happening on the ground. The assessment and analysis of your workforce and organization’s culture is a critical first step, including Linkage’s Advancing Women Leaders Organizational Analysis and Inclusive Organization Analysis.

2. Harness the power of executive action through meaningful sponsorship and mentorship commitments.

Linkage’s research on building and supporting diverse leadership pipelines identifies executive action as a key area of focus that drives measurable results within the organization. What does executive action look like? Take it from Carla Harris, who shares this wisdom with us: “My job now is to create other leaders. It’s not about my execution [of the work]. It’s about my creation of other leaders.”

How are you actively supporting those on your team or within your organization to ascend to new leadership heights? Who are you supporting with meaningful and tangible actions?

The most effective executives are already doing the work of supporting and mentoring high-performing leaders. But, as Carla points out, it is critical for these executives to examine their roster of mentees. If your circle isn’t diverse, expand it to include those from underrepresented groups. But, take the extra difficult step of examining why your circle of mentees and sponsees wasn’t diverse in the first place. Ask yourself the hard questions about how you came to support a homogenized group of professionals. When we can begin to identify the unconscious biases that inform our decision-making and actions in the workplace, we can actively avoid this behavior in the future, allowing us to truly come to the table with an inclusive mindset.

3. Turn up the dial on your support of the advancement of women of all backgrounds, right now.

The negative professional trends affecting women, and especially women of color, are clear—and in the past, many organizations and executive leaders have championed the work of advancing diverse talent pipelines. But a crisis can cause us to drop long-term goals in support of immediate, short-term needs.

The problem is that the COVID-19 public health crisis, and the effects of an accompanying economic crisis, are here to stay—and organizations simply can’t afford to lose the progress they have made toward strengthening and supporting their diverse leadership ranks. That means doubling down on the commitment to women leaders at every level. There is a business imperative here, as more-diverse organizations perform better and achieve better business outcomes, but there is also a moral imperative: We have the obligation to do better for our teams and people and ultimately create a more equitable world.

Looking for more from Carla Harris? Join Linkage at the Virtual Women in Leadership Institute on November 9–12, 2020. Choose the virtual learning experience that best fits your leadership goals: With an All-Access Pass, you will experience four days of immersive learning, and with a Virtual Keynotes and Virtual Keynotes PLUS Pass, you get a convenient, abbreviated conference experience. Learn more and secure your spot today.

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