Motivational speaker Carla Harris.

The Financial Services Institute kicked off its annual OneVoice conference Monday in San Francisco with its first women’s lunch and leadership sessions.

Keynote speaker Carla Harris, vice chairwoman of wealth management at Morgan Stanley, spoke to more than 100 female executives and other independent broker-dealer employees about career advancement and diversity within the industry. There are two types of “currency” that help women succeed in the workplace, she said.

“It’s my pleasure to be here and, as a woman, I love to share my hard-earned pearls of wisdom. I’ve been a woman on [Wall] Street for 30 years,” said Harris, who is also an accomplished gospel singer and author.

To succeed in diversity programs, she explains, broker-dealers and other financial firms have to have intentionality, accountability and consistency.

The industry’s approach to diversity is “a bull-market phenomenon,” she says — meaning that these recruiting, retention and related efforts get more resources when the markets are doing well and less when there’s a bear market.

“And then you’ve got to start all over again,” Harris explained. “Thus, the industry does not have a truly sustained effort. Regardless of the economic or business environment, this has got to be a strategic priority for the industry.”

One way that broker-dealers and other financial firms can boost accountability in this area, she points out, is to make diversity objectives a part of job evaluations and compensation plans.

“With millennials, you have got to do this, or they will demand it. And it’s what we should be doing as baby boomers and Generation Xers,” she said.

Other female professionals agree. “If we don’t adjust, we are going to lose [millennials] to other industries,” said Maura Markus, a board member of Broadridge Financial Solutions, at the event.

As for individual career advancement, Harris and several executives speaking at FSI OneVoice advocate moving positions every few years.

“Think about how to innovate yourself out of a role” and into a new one, the motivational speaker explained.

“Women like to be shown an opportunity, but we’ve got to think about what [we] want to do next … and get a new role. Master the tasks, exceed expectations and then leverage for the next thing!” Harris said.

‘Career Currencies’

She also focused on the importance of “performance currency,” which means producing results that exceed expectations. “Just like the stock market, you have to beat the earnings estimates,” Harris explained.

Strong performers see this currency’s value diminish over time, from $1.50 to $1, since they are always achieving and going beyond what is expected. “We’re talking about diminishing marginal returns,” she said.

This is where “relationship currency” can help, the motivational speaker explains. “It’s worth about $2.25, and there’s no diminishing marginal returns in an environment in which you invest in your people and others invest in you,” Harris stated.

“You must have relationships with others — not just boss,” she explained. “Work does not speak for you. Relationships do! Your ascendance is subject to others’ assessments … and that is influenced by your relationships.”