A new Morgan Stanley program spearheaded by employees in its Fixed Income Division aims to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace for experienced hires.
When Derek Melvin joined Morgan Stanley’s Fixed Income Sales Desk 15 years ago, he had the rare experience of reporting to two Managing Directors who were, like him, African-American. They became his mentors and role models, as he worked with them on and off for 10 years.
“But it wasn’t just the fact that I had these long-term relationships with professionals, with whom I could identify, who were always offering their advice and constructive criticism,” says Melvin. The other not inconsiderable upside: “I never, ever thought the feedback I was getting—even the harsh feedback—was because I was Black.”
Melvin, now a Managing Director himself who leads the origination and syndication team for the Fixed Income Secured Lending business, wants that same experience for the next generation. He and others at the firm have been working together to launch a pilot program that aims to identify and hire Black experienced professionals not already on Wall Street and develop their talent and leadership skills for the financial industry.
Because, as Melvin says, “You can’t be it, if you can’t see it.”
The new Morgan Stanley Experienced Professionals Program is designed to recruit Black professionals with two or more years of post-graduate or work experience for full-time positions, starting out in two key groups: Fixed Income and Bank Resource Management. (If you don’t know what those departments are or what those jobs exactly look like, don’t worry, this program is uniquely geared for those without any background in finance.)
“We will train you,” says Melvin. “Whether you’re in the consultant, legal, pharmaceutical, engineering or insurance business, or in the military and about to transition to civilian life, we just want motivated, smart, analytical professionals who want to learn this business and excel.”
That training promises to be intense. It starts with one month of what Melvin calls “financial 101 bootcamp,” then moves into two 10-week rotations within Fixed Income and Bank Resource Management. After that, participants will join a team in either department full-time.
The program requires a two-year commitment, but, “the goal is to get Black professionals who are going to spend the rest of their careers at Morgan Stanley,” says Mariel Jenkins, a Vice President in Fixed Income who helped launch the program.
Like many other companies, Morgan Stanley has long been committed to diversity in its workforce. “It is the right thing to do, but it’s also more than that,” says Managing Director Patrick Haskell, an 11-year Morgan Stanley veteran who runs the Municipal Products Group and helped spearhead this latest initiative. “If you get a diverse group of people together, you are going to get the answer that allows you to be more competitive and make better business decisions,” Haskell says, adding, “Our clients also want to know that Morgan Stanley looks like the world around them.”
Haskell and Melvin aren’t exactly new to diversity recruiting. Haskell sits on the firm’s Institutional Securities Diversity and Inclusion Committee and both sit on the Fixed Income Diversity and Inclusion Committee and co-chair the Fixed Income Diverse Summer Analyst Committee. For years, they have been successfully helping to recruit multicultural candidates into the firm’s Summer Internship Program, a gateway for college students to full-time jobs.
They looked across the board and realized that they could be doing more. Plenty of Black students were graduating from the top colleges and universities, but only a fraction tracked their careers into the financial services industry. “It’s not a pipeline problem,” says Melvin. “They are out there. We’re just not bringing enough of them to the financial sector.”
Another problem that they all knew about and wanted to circumvent was the constant intra-industry poaching of Black professionals. “We go out and hire someone away from a peer firm one year and someone else comes and hires one of ours away the next,” a zero-sum game that didn’t move the diversity needle for the industry as a whole, Melvin says.
They immediately started putting together ideas for what would become the new program and socializing it with others. “We looked to employers in the national security space as our model,” says Melvin. “They know the skill sets they are looking for when recruiting employees, and if you work in a different industry but still have those skills, they will reach out to you.” It was a way to expand the overall pool of Black professional talent. “This way, everyone benefits,” he says.
He also found “a deep reservoir of support” from firm leadership. “Everyone we spoke to was on board, and that was in January.” Then came the pandemic lockdown and the killings of George Floyd and other Black Americans, followed by local protests for racial justice and equity that overnight spread across the nation—and then went global.
“It was a catalyst,” says Haskell.
The program and its message will resonate deeply with Black professionals, Jenkins says—particularly those in her generation, who increasingly make career and financial decisions based on a company’s commitment to social change. “Our recent intern classes, for example, are highly focused on the diversity statistics within Fixed Income. They’ll make the decision to join this firm over a peer based on those statistics.”
The numbers are important, but this isn’t just a numbers game for Morgan Stanley. “We’re not just checking a box when it comes to Black employees,” says Jenkins. “I believe this is a very supportive culture. If you buy in, work hard and put in the time to form the relationships, people will give you the runway to outperform. People like to see you punch above your weight, and that creates a culture in which we all celebrate each other’s success and help people realize their full potential.”
And while targets and metrics are all good measures of advancement, it’s that hard-to-quantify environment of inclusivity and empowerment that will make the difference. What does success for the program look like? Says Melvin: “Success would be having a critical mass of Black and diverse professionals across all of our businesses. I want this program to succeed itself out of existence.”