Eric Grossman, chief legal officer, Morgan Stanley

Eric Grossman, chief legal officer at Morgan Stanley, talks with GC about effective sponsorship, as well as the role he plays in making sure that diverse candidates have pathways to progress in the legal department.

At Morgan Stanley, we are in the service profession – we don’t make anything. Rather, we serve the communities we operate in. But we don’t always reflect those communities in the ways we would like. Putting aside the moral and ethical issues, we just think this is bad business, and as a goal, we want to better reflect the communities we serve.

We’ve made great progress in this area, but there is more to do. In return, value flows through from that – in the long run the winners in any professional services business will be those who better reflect the communities they serve.

It ought to be easier to make progress when you have 60,000 people within your organization, but it is equally true that the law of numbers makes moving the needle a challenge. As a result, I have focused on what we can do within my own division, legal and compliance. But, as we know, the work doesn’t end with a few key hires. The right care and feeding of these key hires is critical to their development and ultimate success.

Much of our efforts on the D&I front are centered on making certain that high-potential, diverse employees don’t get lost in the mix – that they understand we value them and are investing in their futures.

Communication is a key piece of this, and it works for law departments of every size. There has to be an appreciation of the strategic imperative at the top and then there has to be action; just saying it is not enough.

If you start with the premise of communication, many employees don’t have a good sense of where they stand in an organization. To counter that, we as a firm and myself as divisional leader impress on our direct reports that we must give honest, constructive and regular feedback to employees so that they have a clear understanding of what they do well and what they need to improve on. These conversations can be difficult. It’s just a part of human nature to avoid the conversation entirely or to soft pedal the feedback. We have been focusing on providing our managers with the tools and training they need to understand these issues and better equip them to have these valuable discussions.

At Morgan Stanley, we hold managers accountable. My management committee consists of more than 25 people around the globe. I require each of them to identify their high-potential, diverse and female employees, so that we know who is in the pipeline for promotion. Then we can assign mentors and coaches to make sure that these employees have access and opportunity to progress. At every management committee meeting, we hand out a list of open positions – the purpose of which is to get people talking and thinking about talent, mobility and stretch assignments. We are looking to identify our high-potentials and provide them with a growth platform to drive diversification at our most senior levels.

This cannot be a passive exercise. We understand that progress requires diligence and tenacity. It is part science and part art. For example, with our global mentoring and sponsorship programs for high-potential, diverse and female employees, we spend a lot of time considering factors like experiences, interests and personalities when making the mentor/sponsor pairings. Our sponsorship program in legal is a way of allocating responsibility to those who understand the imperatives of the organization, while also providing advice on how to self-advocate. That is a key part of it. I always look across the audience at town halls and say ‘No one is looking out for your career as much as you. You own it!’ But many people are reluctant to stand up and self promote. The sponsorship and mentoring programs ensure support, getting genuine feedback and attaining access.

image of New York skyline

The distinction between mentoring and sponsorship is key; a mentor is someone who you can talk to regarding issues or long-term career aspirations; a sponsor is someone who recognizes your high potential and is able to advocate for you. I expect members of my management team to serve as both mentors and sponsors, just as I have for women and diverse employees who have gone on to be promoted to managing director and taken leadership roles across legal and compliance and in the businesses we support. I demand of my managers that they participate in advancement of the people on the diverse sponsorship list and I will provide incentives to those who deliver.

I think, if you look at the last five to ten years, every big company has said ‘we are behind the D&I agenda’. But it is important that an organisation actually reflects this, especially for new recruits and graduates, because they want an organisation to embody the right kind of values. You need to have initiatives and agendas that are actually followed through and implemented into the company as opposed to bland strategy comments made and posted around the organisation with no oomph behind them. We have seen a need to benchmark where you are now to where you want to go.

But there is work to do – and I consider it the shared responsibility of the entire legal and compliance division to look more like the communities that Morgan Stanley serves.