Jessica Desjardins, who leads Morgan Stanley’s Women In Wealth networking group, is working hard to connect others and create a more inclusive environment for all.
Jessica Desjardins still has a vivid image of the poster she saw hanging in a campus hallway as an economics major at Barnard College. What caught her attention was the headline: “You’re only as strong as your network. Join ours.”
Now Chief Operating Officer of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Investment Platforms, Jessica remembers how much those words resonated with her at the time—and still do. “At the time, I suspected that wherever I was going with my career, my network would be valuable, so I leapt at the opportunity.” She went on to be a founding member of that chapter of the global professional women’s network Ellevate at Barnard College and Columbia University.
“I met so many fabulous women across New York who were doing interesting things,” she beams of that experience in her early twenties as co-president. “It taught me the power of building relationships. And I realized how many experts are willing and eager to share advice and help others get started in their careers.”
After graduating, she joined the Ellevate New York City Chapter Leadership Team to focus on delivering “meaningful ways for young professionals to build their professional networks while transitioning from college to career.” Jessica reflects on the many mentors and relationships that moved her career along because of that one decision. She started working in consulting, and Morgan Stanley turned out to be her first—and last—consulting client, thrilled to have been offered a full-time role at the Firm. “It was such a natural fit,” she says. Today, she’s still engaged with Ellevate as a Senior Advisor to the New York City Chapter.
Jessica has always loved to work. “The second I was eligible for a work permit, I ran to get it,” she says. She stocked shelves at CVS and was a hostess at a local restaurant. Jessica saw her parents work hard to afford her and her brother opportunities. Her mother qualified for government food assistance when pregnant, and her father worked night shifts to make ends meet for their family. Jessica gained much from her humble beginnings, including a strong work ethic and the importance of giving back.
“I was brought up to appreciate how fortunate we were and to understand that others had less,” says Jessica, who would accompany her mother to the local homeless shelter, where they would wash linens and make beds. “She reminded me that some people, even kids like me, don’t have beds to sleep in at night and how important it was to help them.” Jessica also took from that how “no matter what, we all have something to give, and there is someone out there who needs what you have to offer.”
She’s carried that notion forward in her career and in her efforts to support other women. When the opportunity arose to co-chair (with Fely Cieza) [https://www.morganstanley.com/blog/women/fely-cieza-raised-her-game] Women in Wealth, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management’s women’s employee networking group, “I jumped,” says Jessica.
With over 40 chapters nationwide, Women In Wealth works to support, advance and celebrate women at Morgan Stanley. “We are focused on creating a community that celebrates and advocates for our female employees,” she adds.
In 2020, ladies from around the country got to meet virtually, a “silver lining” of the pandemic that has been “really exciting,” says Jessica. “It’s given us the opportunity to feel a lot closer despite our physical distance. It makes a global firm feel personal.”
Jessica is proud of how hard she has worked while still being able to help others. In her mentoring, one piece of advice she likes to share is this: “Get the courage to make the ask” and reach out to someone. “I love getting ecstatic emails from a mentee who is having coffee with someone they were previously too intimidated to call,” she says. “Just remember, we’re all human beings, and approaching your relationship building with this in mind is a way to build strong and meaningful connections.”
Remembering how she felt early in her career, trying to have the most impact and struggling to find meaning in her work, she points out how “in school, there’s clear guidance on what you need to be successful. Entering the workplace, you don’t have a playbook like that.” Her goal with Women In Wealth is to help people find their own “playbook, help them determine next steps and develop skills that will help them progress,” which of course includes networking.
To women at any level of their profession, she shares the importance of being “really proactive about your career. It’s incredibly important to think through to the results you want and how you intend to get them. There are 168 hours in a week, and how you prioritize them determines your success. Be intentional about investing your time and effort where you’re going to yield results.”
For Jessica, as a new mother, there is even more focus now on investing time to create a better world for her son, James. “I really want the world to be a better place,” she reflects. “When we have diversity in our leaders, when more voices are heard, we get better outcomes, better policies and better decision-making. It creates a more inclusive environment for all, and that’s a world I want my son to grow up in—and it’s a world I hope to help create.”