Within 18 months of joining Morgan Stanley’s Asia Pacific Mergers and Acquisition team in Hong Kong, Becky Li has secured a promotion to Vice President and had an exciting internal mobility opportunity within the Asia Pacific Investment Banking Division. Since July, Li has played a dual role in being the sole Vice President supporting the Division’s core management team in business reviews and forecasts, and strategic initiatives and operating matters; alongside being the staffer of the Asia Pacific Mergers and Acquisitions team managing project staffing of junior members and supporting similar M&A business and strategic reviews. Both roles have placed Li at the core of the Asia Pacific investment banking business and network helping to build alliances globally and with Morgan Stanley’s other front-office divisions across the region.
Prior to her promotion to Vice President, Li joined the firm as an Associate after obtaining an MBA at Columbia. Her professional progress isn’t her only marker of success. Li’s personal life is full and rich: the mother of a seven-year-old tucks her son in every night, attends his school orientations and parent-teacher conferences, and spends weekends hiking, meeting friends, and spending quality time with family.
A culture of care and connection
With experts pointing to the challenges of juggling work and parenthood as a key factor pushing young female bankers out of the industry, how is Li managing to balance both her career and family demands?
“Two core factors”, she says, “are Morgan Stanley’s robust initiatives for parents, and a supportive circle of senior leaders and colleagues within the firm, many of whom are parents themselves.”
“It’s important to have a strong support system,” she says. “My husband is hands-on, and colleagues try not to contact me when I’m putting my son to bed. People understand that we have parenting duties, which require balancing work and a bit of flexibility.”
In fact, family time even brings colleagues closer – thanks to a practice in the Division that sees bankers organise playdates to connect with each other outside of work, while their children make friends.
“When somebody at work knows your family, you build a personal connection with them,” says Li. “That’s important to me.”
Women make up 42 percent of Morgan Stanley Asia’s total workforce, and a third of its mid to senior ranks. “Committing to Diversity and Inclusion” is one of the five core values at Morgan Stanley, and the Asia Pacific Investment Banking Division takes this seriously with multiple strategic initiatives aimed at recruiting, retaining and supporting the career development and advancement of women, at all levels from Analyst to Managing Director. This has increased the proportion of women across all levels, and in particular in senior roles, defying the odds in a career that is traditionally viewed as challenging from a work-life balance perspective.
“We know from our research that women at Morgan Stanley are motivated by purposeful and challenging work. They want to leverage flexible working opportunities, and the support they receive from their managers and colleagues is critical to their long-term success,” says Catherine Loui, the firm’s Managing Director of Human Resources.
Managers at Morgan Stanley are supportive of the need for flexible working hours, which allows talent like Li to balance personal and professional commitments.
Beyond this, the firm offers a slate of programs and benefits to achieve greater gender equality, such as up to 26 weeks of parental leave, and personalised coaching to help new parents successfully transition back to work.
“We are committed to improving women’s representation through targeted recruitment, development and retention of our employees at all levels and in all divisions,” Loui says.
To better support staff with childcare responsibilities, the firm offers group coaching that equips managers with the skills to manage new and expectant parents and relevant team members in an emotionally responsible and intelligent way.
Employee networks also offer opportunities for cross-business connectivity and idea sharing, with over 4,000 employees across Asia being members.
One such network is the Family Network, which focuses on providing resources and support for families at every stage of the cycle. This includes staff who are planning or expecting children, and families with young children, tweens and teens, and elderly members.
Another is the Women’s Business Alliance, which is committed to engaging all employees in order to promote gender diversity and advance the careers of women across Morgan Stanley.
Greater visibility drives advancement
When it comes to promotions, Li shares her learnings unreservedly with the female bankers she mentors, including those on the M&A team she now staffs.
Her top piece of advice? Everyone must advocate for themselves, and make their career goals known to their managers.
“Demonstrating your commitment to building your career is very important,” Li says. “If you show your ambition, if you show your drive, it’s more noticeable to upper management, and you have more opportunities to be considered for promotion.”
Everyone should leverage networking opportunities and mentorship programs to expand their network, she adds. To help her navigate her career journey, Li actively develops relationships with mentors and managers; she has three mentors whom she consults on topics ranging from balancing work with childcare, to ensuring effective performance reviews for her team.
As the financial industry moves to drive diversity this decade, women joining Morgan Stanley will be a part of more formal initiatives to support their career and professional development, such as a mentoring program in the Investment Banking Division, which designates Managing Directors as mentors to those at the Vice President level, and inclusive leasdership training programs at the senior level to enact change and reinforce the importance from the top down.
This is part of the firm’s support for female talent to transition into senior leadership roles through leadership assessment and one-on-one coaching.
Female employees at Morgan Stanley – including early-career bankers – will be offered access to initiatives such as networking sessions, leadership development workshops and group mentoring, while those at the Executive Director and Vice President level can tap into a talent acceleration programme that offers skill development, career management, and opportunities to meet with senior leaders and network with peers.
Over 1,000 female staff across Asia have participated in the firm’s career development initiatives in the last three years, says Loui. “We’re seeing high engagement in the programmes, and over the long term we’ve tracked high levels of retention and career acceleration.”
As for Li, the question she invariably gets asked by mentees is how to develop a presence in male-dominated environments.
“My advice has always been that if you have a unique opinion, you have something valuable to add, so always speak up,” she says. “Don’t sit and wait for exciting things to happen. Go fight for them. Be confident, and don’t hold back.
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