For Carmen Molinos, Managing Director and Head of Consumer Retail M&A, the past few years has been a time of action and reflection.
“They have provoked and accelerated change, taught us resilience and compassion, revealed our interdependencies and transformed the way we live, work, travel, educate, gather and enjoy life,” said Molinos, addressing Morgan Stanley’s 11th annual Executive Women’s Conference. As chair of the event, she noted, “We’ve gathered a differentiated group of women leaders at the nexus of change to share ideas, lessons and inspiration.”
Each year at the conference, top women in finance and investing come together to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing women, economies and society. The attendees, who gathered in New York, represented more than $4 trillion in market capitalization and $40 trillion in assets under management, and discussions included the pandemic and its economic consequences, the importance of social justice, geo-political instability caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, navigating the metaverse economy and leading with authenticity and purpose.
A key focus for women leaders is greater boardroom diversity so that corporations can better address key challenges, including embracing remote methods to vet new members and build culture, prioritizing a range of thinking and tackling strategic long-term issues, such as achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Morgan Stanley’s Melissa James, Vice Chairman of Global Capital Markets, asked: “How do you encourage a culture of open dialog and dissent in board rooms and ensure that you’re harnessing diverse perspectives?” Panelists highlighted the importance of thorough recruitment as the starting point for forming effective and diverse boards. They also shared that while board diversity can span gender, orientation, race, ethnicity and nationality, it can also include personality traits. Enabling more introverted board members, for example, may entail calling on people to share their opinions, helping those who are hesitant to interject.
For women aiming to become board members for the first time, the panel also shared their best tips:
- Aspire: Find examples of female board members and recognize that joining a board is attainable. Know that joining your first board takes longer than you think, but don’t give up.
- Network: Joining a board is often about working your connections. A former boss who may already sit on a board can often be a strong advocate for your credibility.
- Pitch: Refine your 30-second elevator story to help board members understand what value you bring. Back up your story with data points. When did you influence people without wielding a position of power?
One recent major shift in the markets and economy is the rise of the metaverse, the blockchain-based digital world of interactions, transactions and ownership. Morgan Stanley’s Seema Hingorani, senior leader focused on strategic client relationships, investment talent development and diversity initiatives across the platform at Investment Management, moderated a panel of female executives who are pioneering investing in the metaverse, and they talked about opportunities and barriers to entry.
While nodding to concerns about a hyped-up gold rush into cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), the panelists underscored the potential bull case, in which millions of people may visit immersive storefronts or real estate online—or play in growing virtual spaces more fantastical than reality. The panelists said they expect a burgeoning metaverse economy, with a boom in job creation and financing, similar to the growth of FinTech and social media jobs after the widespread adoption of e-commerce and social networks.
Hingorani asked: “How can women play bigger roles as investors and creators in the metaverse?” The panelists encouraged attendees to explore NFTs as hobbyists and suggested investing small amounts of capital as a price to learn. They also highlighted white space opportunities for companies to create metaverse experiences that are tailored to women, similar to e-commerce platforms that have higher proportions of female consumers.
In an ever-changing business landscape, authentic leadership is an important driver of success, the topic of a discussion Cheri Mowrey, Co-Head of U.S. Healthcare Investment Banking, led at the conference.
“Staying true to yourself and your values will ultimately prove fulfilling and lead to success,” Mowrey said. Effective leadership also involves forming teams with different perspectives, understanding what motivates them and engaging them with high visibility, she noted. Through this approach, Mowrey added, women leaders create a clear business strategy and align culture around it.
Equally essential is gathering feedback on yourself as a leader. Mentors can help, and they can take many forms, including colleagues, coaches, professors and people in your professional or charitable organizations, Mowrey said. “Make time for self-reflection and find partners that you can trust and give you feedback,” she said. “Then listen to that feedback and adapt.”
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