A role model for diversity at Morgan Stanley: how Tosin Ajayi is helping ethnic minority talent get to the top
When Morgan Stanley’s Tosin Ajayi speaks with young employees from an ethnic minority heritage at her firm, she finds it easy to identify with their ambitious career aspirations.
“I can put myself in their shoes, and they can also relate to where I’ve come from,” says Tosin, the London-based Global Chief Operating Officer of Fixed Income Research and Economics. “Back in 2003, I’d just joined Morgan Stanley – it was my first role in banking and it presented a steep learning curve. Seventeen years later, I’m a black female Managing Director who’s worked across several senior jobs in the US and UK, and I’m still excited to be here at Morgan Stanley,” she adds.
Following an early-career stint in consultancy, specialising in the energy sector, Tosin completed an MBA at Columbia Business School, which propelled her into her first Morgan Stanley job as a New York-based researcher within global fixed income research. “A lot of firms came to campus, and Morgan Stanley’s people really stood out. Many had been with the bank a long time, had several roles and were still so enthused by their jobs,” says Tosin, who now visits universities herself to inspire the next generation of potential Morgan Stanley employees.
Tosin was able to follow her passions from the start of her Morgan Stanley career. “Working in investment banking research appealed because I love information and making it useful to people. And macro research is especially interesting because it connects me to important trends in global markets,” explains Tosin. “I also leaned on my energy market experience, which was of tremendous value to the team I was in.”
Tosin, who was born in Nigeria and moved to the UK aged 16, says her interest in the energy sector stems from the importance of that industry to the Nigerian economy. “I’ve always tried to work in areas I feel passionate about – and that’s helped me be my authentic self at work. I spearhead several key diversity initiatives and am committed to championing Morgan Stanley’s inclusive culture. Across the firm, we strive to ensure an inclusive environment where everyone, no matter their ethnicity or background, can be their true selves at work, and can put their best foot forward and perform,” she says.
Having recognised Morgan Stanley’s approach to inclusion early in her career, Tosin says she is a strong believer in “giving back” to the firm and its ethnically diverse employees, by being a role model herself and by helping to lead groundbreaking diversity initiatives. For example, Tosin is Morgan Stanley’s Executive Champion for the Race at Work Charter, a UK government-backed initiative launched in 2018 that involves scores of leading employers and is designed to tackle ethnic disparities in the workplace and promote the recruitment and progression of ethnically-diverse employees. She leads Morgan Stanley’s firm-wide Race to Action Group, a set of senior leaders who together act as a catalyst for driving Morgan Stanley’s race inclusion strategy.
One of the many innovative new initiatives is a programme for high-potential employees from ethnic-minority backgrounds. “It’s a leadership development programme that enables our employees to manage and leverage their leadership style while developing key skills that will help them to maximize their impact and influence. It’s designed to empower individuals to further their careers and also provides exposure to senior management across the firm’s divisions,” says Tosin. “The participants have told me that they can now see clearer career paths for themselves at Morgan Stanley.”
Earlier this year, Tosin hosted the firm’s inaugural ‘Let’s Talk About Race’ event for managers of employees who self-identify as having ethnic-minority heritage. External guest speakers shared best practice on how to have a meaningful and open dialogue about race, and also addressed the issue of unconscious bias in managerial decision making. “Managers are making decisions on hiring and promotions, so they should be able to see things from the perspective of a racially-diverse candidate or team member,” says Tosin. “The feedback from the first event was phenomenal and we are now rolling it out more broadly.”
Tosin is the Executive Sponsor of Morgan Stanley’s African & Caribbean Business Alliance (“ACBA”), an employee network formed in 2007. She says the group has transformed from a social network to a career, leadership and development platform. The Alliance has also gained a strong ally base of senior leaders across the firm. Established initiatives include a buddy programme to support recruitment and retention and a popular Career and Leadership Series which focuses on sharing career development tools. Over the years, ACBA has successfully leveraged Black History Month as an occasion to highlight accomplishments of exceptional colleagues and thought leaders, gathering interest from across the firm.
“We have passionate and committed colleagues who act as great role models taking part in the Alliance,” says Tosin. “It’s humbling to see how much the firm has already done to promote the diversity agenda.”
In a firm as diverse and international as Morgan Stanley, having a broad network of role models and mentors is important, she says. “It’s very helpful to look upwards in the organisation and see someone who looks like you. But, you shouldn’t only concentrate on obvious aspects of diversity – someone in your team, perhaps even the Managing Director, could be of a different ethnicity but may have something else very important in common with you,” she adds.
Tosin says she has had “incredible” access to senior mentors at Morgan Stanley, who have helped her rise rapidly up the ranks. She joined a new team, commodities analysis, in 2005 and was soon appointed head of that unit in New York and then in London. By 2009, Tosin was running commodities analysis globally.
Whether it be for her career or even away from the office, Tosin says she’s always sought out role models – from all backgrounds and seniority levels. “You should never have just one role model; you should have several for all aspects of your job. This could be as simple as learning from the way a person effectively summarises key points after a meeting,” she adds. “And if you’re not strong yet in a particular area but you have potential – making presentations, for example – you could even ask to shadow someone at the firm who’s an expert.”
Since she moved into her Chief Operating Officer (COO) role in 2015, Tosin has had to take on a range of new tasks herself, such as oversight of technology, hiring, regulatory and people challenges. “But that’s the exciting thing about being a COO: there are so many completely different aspects to it, so it’s not predictable and no two days are the same,” she says.
In March 2020 Tosin faced another new challenge as she began managing her team remotely during the Covid-19 outbreak. “Some colleagues have partners who are key workers, while others have housemates who are in isolation, but the thing to stress is that we’re all in this together,” says Tosin, noting wryly that she has got used to her daughter dropping in unexpectedly during Zoom meetings. “Mental well-being is very important – I don’t want to see my team online too late when working from home.”
Even during these challenging times, Tosin says she remains focused on developing the skills of her own team and on advancing the careers of ethnically-diverse talent across Morgan Stanley, including new graduates. “Seats on our summer internships and graduate programmes are very competitive, so if you get one, believe me – it’s because you deserve it,” she says. “You should feel confident and believe in yourself here, because we already do – Morgan Stanley chose you and that shows how sought after you already are.”