Interview: Abbas Jaffer, Head Of Diversity, Morgan Stanley

Networks for once-marginalised groups are helping to overcome inequalities
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The Independent Online

"A marathon, not a sprint" is how Abbas Jaffer, head of diversity at Morgan Stanley, refers to the challenge of tackling diversity within the financial services sector. "I think the sector is very aware, as are we, that diversity is something we need to keep very focused on at all times, " he says.

Unfortunately, the industry has not always had its eye so closely on the ball. Some would say it still lags behind the efforts of other sectors. It has been called "institutionally ageist" and has paid out eye-watering sums to settle claims of sexism. Then there are the accusations of men groping female colleagues and of ethnic minority staff rarely getting promoted. Morgan Stanley alone has faced claims of ageism, sexism and racism ­ although, these have taken place in the United States.

The highest profile of these cases was back in 2004, when $54m (£27m) was paid by the company to settle the US Equal Employment Opportunity's claim that it underpaid and failed to promote women in its American offices. The deal called for the firm to pay $12m (£6m) alone to Allison Schieffelin, a trader whose 1998 complaint prompted the case, while a further $40m (£20m) was paid to around 340 other female employees. Morgan Stanley denied it practised discrimination, but agreed to pay $2m (£1m) to improve diversity training and create internal programmes to prevent and address discrimination.

Back on this side of the Atlantic, Morgan Stanley is equally busy putting in place ever more innovative diversity initiatives. "We very much see diversity as a competitive advantage, in that we are a global company firm with global clients and we are obviously keen to reflect this client base," comments Jaffer. This is becoming even more essential as the firm expands into emerging markets, he says. "It's important for us to understand these local markets and engage with the local workforce in these locations."

The war on talent is another key reason, he says, particularly in the UK, where demographics are changing all the time. "It's a case of leaving no stone unturned because we really can't afford to."

Jaffer's role as head of diversity across Europe was created in 2000. Now, the three-strong diversity team drives an agenda that involves first and foremost monitoring the workforce so that they can find out what traditionally marginalised groups ­ such as disabled, women, ethnic minorities and lesbian and gay ­ are at what levels of the organisation. "Among the improvements we have seen is a rise in the percentage of women at senior level and in the percentage of women entering our workforce at graduate level. Our overall ethnic minority percentage has increased year on year and we've also seen a decrease in female turnover," he says.

Perhaps most significant of Morgan Stanley's diversity efforts is its employee networks. "We've got about 25 per cent of employees in the London office engaged in any one of the networks which include a women's network, an Asian network, an African and Caribbean network, an Irish network, a parents' network and a gay and lesbian network."

While each has a central budget from the diversity team, they are very much owned and managed independently, says Jaffer. "We don't force an agenda on them. They develop their own objectives for the year, which can range from mentoring to outreach programmes to internal mentoring and support to seminar programmes. They also provide great opportunities to get to know other people across an ever growing firm. In addition, we work with the networks in our recruitment efforts. They come out with us on campus and talk about how their group is supported."

Among Morgan Stanley's smaller programmes is a maternity buddies programme for women about to go on or return from maternity leave. "This exists cross-divisionally and is something we are looking to grow even more," says Jaffer. He also points to the series of women's master classes focusing on supporting women in terms of career development. "They focus on things like leadership, influence, impact and managing your career ­ some of the challenges that women have typically flagged up in the past," he says.

Meanwhile, mandatory diversity training across the whole firm ­ which has been running since 2003 ­ ensures that no employee gets away without fully understanding the firm's commitment to diversity.

While the firm has won numerous awards and accolades from organisations such asRace for Opportunity ­ and its anonymous benchmarks against competitors show that the firm is on the right track ­ Jaffer is reticent to suggest that Morgan Stanley stands out from the crowd. "I'd say different firms are in different places and in an attempt to improve the whole sector, we work collectively on a number of issues. For example, we've got together to run a programme on women in investment banking and an outreach programme for A- level girls."

There is still some way to go, he admits. "Our biggest challenge is to keep the momentum going and to make sure we are constantly looking to address divisional challenges with a variety of solutions. Our toughest group is middle management because they are focused on their own day jobs without necessarily thinking about the bigger picture and why diversity matters."

But when Jaffer gets in a lift or goes into the canteen and sees a greater mix of people ­ and his team's monitoring shows a greater mix both visibly and invisibly ­ he allows himself to feel a well-deserved sense of satisfaction.