We’re Not Here to Make Revolution, This is Our Company Culture

  • July 28, 2011
While reporting on Hungarian women for a decade now, I have found that no issue causes more pain than discrimination and exclusion in the workplace. The U.S.-based company Morgan Stanley has been a leader in promoting workplace diversity here in Hungary, and we sat down with its Managing Director, Marybeth Cagney, and Human Resources Director, Eva Bresztyenszky to understand how the company puts diversity to work in an environment where it is yet to become mainstream.

by Zsuzsa Béres, Senior Writer

Zsuzsa Béres: Former Harvard President Larry Summers once suggested that the under-representation of women in science and engineering could be due to a "different availability of aptitude at the high end," and less to patterns of discrimination and socialization. Your response?

Marybeth Cagney: I don’t agree with that position, but perhaps it is not all due to discrimination, either. Here at Morgan Stanley in Hungary we do tend to see fewer women in technology. Do we think that it’s because there’s less smart women out there? Definitely not. But the reality is that those women are choosing not to go down the career path of technology and science. What we need to do is make them aware that those paths are not only available to them, but also attractive career options.

ZB: What does diversity mean in Morgan Stanley’s corporate context?
MBC: It means having a diverse workforce, i.e. employing people from many different cultural backgrounds, and not discriminating against anyone based on their gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion or anything else. By having that diverse workforce we better represent our clients because they themselves are very diverse. All we're really trying to do is say we have diverse clients, shouldn't we have a diverse workforce to best represent their interests?

Éva Bresztyenszky: One focus area these days very much involves gender, providing support to our women employees. We have made this a priority and really put a great deal of emphasis on it. Morgan Stanley has a group of employee networks that are a significant aspect of the company's diversity efforts. These networks are run by employees and they develop their own goals for the year, which can range from mentoring and support, to outreach programs, to workshops.

We also strive to ensure that our male employees are sensitized to gender issues. Our parents' network is very much aligned with our women's network, since women in Hungary are usually the prime caregivers for small children. However we also want to make a real difference in opening up to the LGBT community so that is a new area of focus for us.

ZB: Your company culture seems to me quite unusual for Hungary.

EB: Morgan Stanley’s company culture has grown up over many years and is an important part of what makes us a successful global company. So we think it’s very important to embrace concepts like inclusiveness and diversity, even if they are less usual in Hungary. Disability is likewise a priority issue for HR here in Budapest.  We try to help our employees understand why it's so important to personally experience diversity in our day-to-day life, and they really appreciate it. It is well-known how challenging it is to attract and keep Generation Y employees. Offering them a diverse work culture is another way to appeal to them.

ZB: Morgan Stanley seems to have made revolutionary strides towards equal employment opportunities for Hungarian women.

MBC: We're not here to make a revolution, this is our company culture. Diversity essentially means treating your peers with respect and respecting them for their individualism.

EB: The way we handle diversity has become so integrated into our daily lives here at the Budapest office that it has all become very natural. Morgan Stanley's corporate code of conduct has been a big part of this. Our employees regularly receive code of conduct training to help them understand what it all really means.

ZB: How do you actually achieve diversity at Morgan Stanley?

MBC: If you become known as a company that accepts and encourages diversity then a more diverse candidate pool will come to you. Our policy is to give all our employees the support they need, so that they know this is a company where they can make their career. The key is retain good employees. And so they should be working in an environment where they feel comfortable and supported no matter what.

EB: Diversity training is part of the orientation training we provide for our employees. And mandatory diversity training across the whole firm since 2003 ensures that all employees attain a full understanding of Morgan Stanley's commitment to diversity. Our management monitors hiring statistics to see how traditionally marginalized groups are doing in the organization. They also monitor promotions to see if its balanced, or whether there is a discriminatory pattern.

ZB: Hungarian working mothers grapple with rampant discrimination as they try to reenter the workforce after maternity leave. How do you see this issue at Morgan Stanley?

MBC: We try to keep having conversations with women. HR just recently had a session with mothers-to-be, where they talked about what women who were ready to come back needed to do. It is important that women on maternity leave stay in touch with their colleagues, and they need to plan ahead for childcare. We want to be able to take them back and integrate them back into the workforce. And we're willing to work on this because we've invested in them, so we want them back.

EB: Women working at multinational companies such as Morgan Stanley are at an advantage. Multinationals operate under strict ethics codes subject to monitoring. There are ways to obtain redress if you feel you have been discriminated against. And precisely because of this our employees are not afraid to speak up.

ZB: Give us an example of how you sensitize employees to diversity.

EB: Last year, for instance, as part of the EMEA Morgan Stanley Diversity Week we organized diversity training for all seven hundred of our employees. Because diversity training is still in its infancy in Hungary, we decided to hire a training company Morgan Stanley uses in London. They gave a three-hour course in which everybody had to participate - not just junior but senior staff as well. It was quite an experience with people acting out and role playing on specific diversity issues. It was fascinating to observe their reactions. People really opened up. A good example involved ruling out making certain comments to women, even if you don't believe that they could be damaging or hurtful.

It was one of the five events that took place during the diversity week. Amongst others we organised career coaching for women and a movie night with an amazing director in wheelchair who shared his own experience, which was a big eye-opener for all of us who participated.

ZB: Do you have any plans for the immediate future?

MBC: We're having a whole diversity month this coming September based on the success of our diversity week last year. The activities during that time are meant to open employees’ eyes to diversity. We also try to celebrate where we have accomplished some diversity.

EB: As of September this year, we will also be visiting Hungarian high schools to show female students what a career in Information Technology (IT) actually involves. The ratio of female IT students at Budapest's Technical University is a mere 10 percent. We will be going in pairs, a woman and a man, targeting high schools with a strong math tradition. Girls may not be encouraged at home to enter science and technology fields. They may even be dissuaded by family and friends on the ground that IT is a male profession. We would like these young girls to meet real life women in IT.

ZB: How does your "Women of Excellence" initiative, with the American Chamber of Commerce, work?

MBC: Immediately upon coming to Hungary we started to work with AmCham on their annual diversity conference. For last year's fourth annual conference we said let's turn the focus on women again because we think we have ways to go there. An award program was devised and there was a celebration for being recognized by your colleagues as a Woman of Excellence. In AmCham's first Women of Excellence Award last year we focused on work-life balance. So women of excellence last year were women who balanced and juggled a lot of things in their lives and yet were quite successful.

ZB: Many Hungarian women find it extremely difficult to balance just work and family, let alone juggling multiple roles. What would you say to them?

MBC: We recognize the issues, which is why it is important to spotlight these women to give other women a feeling that if they can do it then we can do it, too. Going through over fifty nominations we found many women who seemed to have it all. They had a family, a successful work career, and outside activities, such as involvement in sports or charity work. I found a theme with these women was, first of all, organizational skills, and second that it takes more than you and your partner and your colleagues to come together to be successful. You have to patch together your own support system.

To learn more about the AmCham Women of Excellence initaitive please visit www.noikivalosag.hu.