2016 Honoree

Carla Harris

VC Wealth Management, Morgan Stanley

“You want to make sure you have diverse leadership. If you have a woman and a man with the same qualifications, you have to choose the woman if your goal is to have diversity among your leadership ranks so you can continue and attract and promote the best. You default to what you know, but if the facts are the same with equal candidates and you have to be intentional in this case, that takes some courage.”

What socio-political women’s issue do you care about the most? Do you feel that women are typically presented fairly in the media? Why or why not?

What I focus on the most is women’s leadership, which incorporates, both, a corporate and philanthropic environment. So, all of the work that I do in almost any venue of my life has some component of that. I’m passionate about making sure that women get in positions of leadership because I do think, in general, we are good leaders. In my capacity, as chair of National Women Business Council, I’m squarely focused on women and women’s entrepreneurship. For the past three years, I’ve been passionate about making sure that women get the kinds of things that they need to be successful. At my job as vice president of Morgan Stanley, I target women clients that need access to capital, information around scaling, competing for government contracts, and also resources around private sector contracts.

What specific aspect of women’s rights in the U.S. could we change to set an example to the world? What will it take (apart from time) for women to be viewed as equal to men?

In this current administration there certainly has been a movement towards making sure women get paid leave, to have time off and paid time off to take care of your family–not just your kids, but also aging parents. If we continue to be progressive in those subject areas, we would certainly advance women in the country. As you know, disproportionately women are still the caretakers, and if that stays the same as this country ages, then that responsibility and demand will fall more squarely on women. It will impede their ability to continue to rise because they’re making a decision to take care of aging parents or kids. What we can do globally as a country is support Cedaw and those initiatives that try to eradicate violence against women around the world. Those actions also promote education of women and girls around the world, which has been initiated by our first lady, and those kinds of initiatives I think advance us globally.

Whatever profession you choose, do men see women as either a female rival with independence and strength or someone inexperienced that needs to be managed, never as an equal? How do you show your male colleagues that you are an equal without stepping on their toes?

I think it’s about talking to the decision-makers about being intentional about getting the best, who is good about being decisive, and vision around getting to the reality of success. Then, we have to look at that in the abstract and then start getting a sense of people’s capabilities–whether or not they are male or female. And being intentional about not adding the extra thought. Let’s just look at the facts. Are they good relationship builders? Do they have a level of expertise around the subject matter? Can they create a vision and execute successfully? You want to make sure you have diverse leadership. If you have a woman and a man with the same qualifications, you have to choose the woman if your goal is to have diversity among your leadership ranks so you can continue and attract and promote the best. You default to what you know, but if the facts are the same with equal candidates and you have to be intentional in this case, that takes some courage. We’re not compromising, but if the qualifications are the same, there has to be some intentionality about who’s in that seat.

Do you feel the extreme left and right wings of U.S. politics are destroying the United in United States, or is it just healthy debate? Should the financing of political campaigns be the controlled by an independent authority?

This election is forcing a lot of people who might’ve been on the periphery to pay attention. I think anyone who was in the apathetic middle is now compelled to pay attention, and I’d even put myself in that camp. I’m paying far more attention to exactly what people are saying. To hear the whole content in a speech or hear when there’s just a flat out falsehood being stated. We’ll all be much more educated and engaged because of the pulls on both ends.

What do you now know about yourself that you wish you knew ten/fifteen/twenty years ago? Do today’s young people face a bigger challenge than you did?

I know today I am more powerful, and because I am very spiritual, I am very powerful. I did not know that to that extent at fifteen-years-old. It’s having that personal relationship and understanding of the power within that can get things to happen. I wish that I knew that at fifteen because I would’ve been more comfortable with taking risks and understanding that it’s about having a new experience. Every time you have a new experience you either get the thing you were going for, or not, which is the blessing or the lesson. I would have been more comfortable going forward without the calculation or the deliberation that we put around before we execute.

Do you feel that religion is on the decline in the Western World? Will it have an effect on U.S. society? If so, will it be good or bad?

I want to differentiate religion and spirituality, but I think the search for spiritual things have been on the rise. If you think of the emergence of megachurches, and you go to TD Jakes house in Dallas, or Joel Osteen’s Lakewood in Houston, you’ll see that their spiritual following has made those types of churches successful. If you go to Joel Osteen’s church, they’re three services with over 10,000 people each. I can’t even remember back in the 70s or 80s where you have 10,000 people in a service. That tells you that there’s a search for something in peoples lives.

Can you tell us about one of the biggest challenges in your life that you think helped you become the person you are today? What was your best decision to date? Worst decision?

It was an unconscious challenge. I wasn’t preoccupied that I was a woman when I first came to Wall Street. I wasn’t conscious of how many women or people of color were on Wall Street, but I was in a program that exposed me to men of color. I was smart, and it worked out. I figured out in the first three years working on Wall Street that you need the relationships, not just to be smart and work hard. You need to understand how people perceive you. You need to be able to take risks. It was the experience of acquiring the tough times, falling in a hole and having to crawl. These pearls have shaped me into who I am. I didn’t have a concept of being able to give or philanthropic.

Who inspires you the most? If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

I would have dinner with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was the first person who inspired and influenced me as a little girl, as early as fifth grade. Today, there are so many people that inspire me for so many different reasons, such as the Olympic athletes. Their discipline encourages me to have more drive to go towards what I want.

If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?

To be able to read minds because, with that power, you can continue to execute, you can anticipate, and respond.

Favorite: Book/writer? Song/singer? Movie/actor? Cuisine/dish?

Food: hamburgers, no question. And soul food. Song: Expect to win. Book: The Bible and her first book, Expect to Win. Movie: Sparkle the original.

My music is an avocation, and I’ve taken it very seriously recording three CDs. I’ve performed in sold out venues. I take it very seriously.

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