Morgan Stanley
  • Women Financial Advisor Forum
  • Jun 29, 2021

Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Insights from Women in Finance and Tech

Morgan Stanley leaders shared career insights and personal advice at our virtual Women in Finance and Technology panel with the Girl Scouts.

When leaders share inspirational stories and advice, it can have a powerful impact on young people and their future. As the corporate world seeks to address and fix the gender gap, especially at top levels, it’s important for girls to get visibility into varied workspaces and be offered opportunities to learn, grow and succeed.

Girl Scouts of Greater New York helps over 38,0001 girls do just that by building courage, confidence and character. They believe in the power of every G.I.R.L—Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader™—to change the world. They focus on business and entrepreneurship; science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) leanring; outdoor adventure and education, and leadership development. Morgan Stanley is a proud corporate sponsor, supporting financial empowerment programs.

In honor of Financial Literacy month, Girl Scouts of Greater New York and Morgan Stanley Wealth Management brought together women and girls for an authentic and transparent virtual panel: “Women in Finance and Technology.” Future trailblazers were treated to personal anecdotes and honest advice about career paths, inspirational women and the importance of seeing diverse women leaders across these sectors.

Jamie Luhrs, Executive Director, Morgan Stanley, has been a dedicated supporter of Girl Scouts of Greater New York, working closely with the organization on financial education and empowerment programs.

“We are so thrilled to be co-sponsoring this event with the Girl Scouts of Greater New York,” Luhrs said. “While this topic in particular is near and dear to my heart as a woman in finance, I’m also proud to work for an organization like Morgan Stanley, which is committed to helping empower girls to take control of their financial lives and give them the skills they need to become business leaders, owners and investors.”

Here are key insights the speakers shared:

Diverse Leaders Matter

If you ask every little girl at five years old what she wants to be when she grows up, you’d likely get an assortment of answers. In fact, each panelist was asked that exact question. While some of the women found careers tied to their early interests, others found completely different paths. One influential factor in the futures young girls envision for themselves is seeing people who look like them in different roles and careers.

“If you had asked me at [age] 5 whether I’d ever be working for a bank, I would have told you that was the last thought from my mind, but I did always want to be in technology,” said Rachel Wilson, Managing Director, Head of Data Security and Infrastructure Risk, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. 

Wilson also always wanted to work in a field that could change the world. As a girl, she was fascinated by technology, codes and cryptology. As a teenager, she interned for, and was inspired by, Jackie Speier, a California State Assembly Member at the time, who now serves as a U.S. Representative for California's 14th congressional district. Seeing powerful, courageous women in different roles can be hugely motivating for anyone.

Whitnee Hawthorne, Vice President of Customer Support, JetBlue Airways, believes it’s important for her to be her authentic self, so girls and young women can see a black woman succeeding in technology and be inspired. She’s worked in both finance and technology and has had her share of experiences pitching to potential clients who didn’t understand that she was the expert in the room. “In all of those scenarios… there just aren’t a lot of people who look like me. I can tell from the looks on people’s faces that I am the only person [who looks like her] who has ever walked into the room at this senior level.”

Despite sharing similar experiences in which people don’t always see her for her expertise, Krystal Barker Buissereth, CFA, Managing Director and the Head of Financial Wellness, Morgan Stanley, thinks that things are changing for the better. With Morgan Stanley, she is building a financial wellness startup, seeing firsthand the products and solutions that can help people. She also helps bring financial wellness and education, through a digital platform, to diverse communities—an endeavor at the intersection of finance and technology that impacts many different people.

Advice for Younger Generations

Career journeys can be fluid; there isn’t always a direct path to a desired goal. But that doesn’t mean you should give up. If anything, Angela Dalton, CEO and Founder, Signum Growth Capital, believes that early experiences of trying things out is really important; gaining knowledge and skills is never a waste of time. “Experience is hugely important in terms of honing in on what you really want to do and what you want to spend your waking hours thinking about… When it is no longer work and it doesn’t feel like work, you’ve found it.”

Morgan Stanley’s Wilson said she left a career she thought she’d be in forever. “Sometimes the things you least expect are the things that are going to turn out to be the greatest opportunities.” For her, that meant moving from national defense and the intelligence community to leading cybersecurity and defense efforts for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

Hawthorne, from JetBlue, shared her own thoughts about being unafraid to ask for what you want. Sometimes, especially for women, it can be a new and daunting challenge. “There’s nothing that you should do… there are only the things that you want to do and what you need to do. If you go after those things that are interesting to you, you’re going to do better than if you go after things that are not interesting to you.”

People spend the majority of their adult lives at work, so it’s beneficial if they like their jobs and the people they work with. Augusta Sanfilippo, Global Head of Markets Operations Technology, Barclays International, believes it’s important to seek an alignment and a fit with your values, including diversity and inclusion. “Make sure you’re interviewing the company as much as the company is interviewing you.” 

As technology rapidly evolves, so does the workforce. It’s key for future hires to recognize the changes within different fields and create opportunities for themselves. “Become someone who is comfortable learning in public and learning that next new thing. That will set you on a tremendous career path,” Wilson stated.

Inspiring Women and the Power of Networking

The power and influence of women can be seen at home and beyond, from early life well into career journeys. While there may be different reasons, all of the panelists shared that their mothers and grandmothers were sources of inspiration. But it doesn’t stop at home.

As the world has shifted to remote schooling, work and events, that didn’t mean the need for networking stopped. “What I’ve seen in my career is that women really work harder. I thought that was how to get ahead… it’s a lot easier to get ahead if you also network,” said Karen Snow, SVP, Head of East Coast Listings and Capital Services, Nasdaq. 

It may seem like a difficult time to enact change and chase your goals, but there may never be a “perfect” time. Morgan Stanley’s Barker Buissereth said her grandmother was very much ahead of her time. “She grew up in a time where there weren’t very many jobs open for women, let alone black women, but she just said, ‘I want to support my family and do what I need to do.’ She had several different jobs—a seamstress, a nurse, a teacher....  I really admire her entrepreneurial spirit.” It’s that spirit these Girl Scouts and panelists embody today.

Girls and women of all ages should continue to believe in themselves and help other girls and women attain their career aspirations. Positive progress is brought about with personal determination and corporate commitment. 

Watch a replay of the Girl Scouts event for more insights from the esteemed panelists. 

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