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Voice of Experience: Joan Steinberg, Managing Director and Global Head of Philanthropy, Morgan Stanley

Joan SteinbergBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Joan Steinberg, Morgan Stanley’s Global Head of Philanthropy, was recently named a Managing Director at the firm. Steinberg says that it’s important to project professionalism and leadership when seeking advancement.

“You have to be at the next level,” advised the woman who led Morgan Stanley’s charitable efforts following 9/11. She explained that at a recent event for new Managing Directors within the firm, she saw many people she already assumed were MDs.

“Be the role you want to be, so that it’s easy for others to see you that way,” she said.

Building a Career in Philanthropy

“I have always worked in philanthropy and engaging employees’ communities,” Steinberg said, tracing her career path from pro-bono PR to becoming executive director of the Bergen County, NJ American Cancer Society office before joining Morgan Stanley.

But, she said, her most meaningful professional experience was heading Morgan Stanley’s relief fund after 9/11. “Morgan Stanley was the largest tenant of the World Trade Center – and out of 2,700 colleagues in the building, we lost thirteen.” Steinberg was in charge of allocating money to those thirteen individuals’ families and other victims, as well as to first responders and colleagues needing psychological care.

“It was difficult to do, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done emotionally. All of those lives are priceless – but we had to work with dollars, and dollars can’t make someone whole again after a loss like that,” she explained. “But I’m unbelievably proud of what we were able to do, ultimately ending up with a $16 million dollar fund.”

Today part of Steinberg’s responsibilities involve getting help to employees experiencing disasters or personal issues. “This firm really takes care of people,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and I come from the non-profit world.”

What’s Next in Corporate Philanthropy

Steinberg said that one of the most interesting things she’s currently working on is Morgan Stanley’s partnership with the hunger-relief charity Feeding America. “Hunger and malnutrition are one of the root causes of preventable death and disease in children.”

She continued, “Last year we announced our Fill the Plate program, which seeks to expand and strengthen Feeding America’s Backpack Program. One in four kids in this country does not have enough to eat. As an American, I find this unconscionable. And Morgan Stanley’s reasoning is that this is a solvable problem.”

Each Friday the Backpack Program provides children who receive free school lunches with a backpack filled with enough food for the weekend.

“We see hunger as a critical issue to development,” she explained. “Kids who are not healthy have lower levels of academic achievement. You need to get the right start in this country. This is a problem we can actually solve, that every one of our employees can actually take part in.”

Steinberg continued, “We just had our 75th anniversary, and this company has an amazing history of giving back, and being strategic about what it is we can offer.” She sees skills-based volunteering as the next big trend in corporate philanthropy.

For example, she said Morgan Stanley’s employees have the opportunity to provide pro bono strategic advisory services to non-profits as part of the Firm’s annual Social Enterprise Strategy Challenge. “We’ve seen major results,” she said. “Last year we provided over 5,400 hours of services to twelve non-profits, worth about $820,000.”

She continued, “It’s an emerging trend and it’s also a great tool for people in the firm who are up-and-coming to hone their own abilities.”

The Importance of Sponsorship

Steinberg said that when she began her career, like many young people, she was focused on her future – trying to figure out how to succeed and compete. “I wish I had spent more time on networking, building relationships with partners and teams. You can’t be successful without people helping you.”

“It’s a matter of your maturity level – it’s hard to think about it that way, that the environment is not all about you. It’s about everybody. As I’ve matured what I’ve learned is that you rely on the kindness of strangers,” she continued.

“Particularly for women, sponsors and relationships are key to your success. A lot of women hang their hat on one boss, but what if that boss leaves? You need a network,” she continued. “Women are great at relationships but I don’t know if we think enough about our careers as social networks. The recent Center for Work Life Policy report on sponsors in the workplace really rang true for me.”

Steinberg is on the steering committee for Morgan Stanley’s Women’s Business Alliance. “It’s a group of senior leaders working to make sure we attract, retain, and develop the best talent.”

The WBA works on a number of recruiting efforts and partners with key external organizations. She explained, “We are working to make sure women see [Morgan Stanley] as we see ourselves.”

She said that the firm is a great place to be a mom as well. “The fact that I was given this global role while I was pregnant is a testament to the way the firm sees women. It’s an easy place to establish work/life balance – not that you’re ever really balanced when you have a two-year-old!”

“But I’ve been so supported, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences.”

In Her Personal Time

Steinberg serves on a number of non-profit boards, mainly focused in the children’s advocacy area. She is also on the Corporate Advisory Council of the American Red Cross.

She said with a laugh, “I also have a two-year-old, so I spend a lot of time watching Mickey Mouse.”