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Forging the future: Carla Harris headlines MIT Sloan's Investment Conference

When you think of the investment industry, who do you picture at the top? How about the leaders of finance? Do the people you picture look like you? According to one study, 73 percent of financial services professionals are 44 year-old white men. That’s not exactly diverse. 

The students and faculty responsible for the MIT Sloan School of Management’s Investment Conference are eager to have a candid conversation about the importance of diversity in the industry, the value companies have derived from diversifying their ranks, and why these kinds of wholesale changes can benefit consumers and businesses.

The MIT Sloan Investment Conference is a student-led, faculty-supported event meant to explore and investigate the current and future state of investing. With an increased focus on creating more diverse, equitable, and inclusive spaces across the financial services sector, conference planners carefully considered how to design an event in which diverse participants could confer and share ideas. 

Jake Alchek, MBA ’22 and Nicole Lim, MBA ’22, conference co-chairs, heard the calls for more diversity among the attendees and among the conference speakers. Meanwhile, global events roiled financial markets and grassroots campaigns focused on social justice and the need for  more equity and inclusivity within financial services. 

“It was important to work with people like Frank Ahimaz, (Lecturer, Finance, MIT Sloan School of Management), Deborah Lucas, (Director, MIT Golub Center for Finance and Policy at MIT Sloan), and others to create a forum in which a variety of ideas might flourish,” Jake said. 

Morgan Stanley's Carla Harris was a featured speaker at the MIT Sloan Investment Conference

Jake and Nicole developed a distinctive slate of programming featuring keynote speaker Carla Harris, the conference’s first African American keynote speaker. Ms. Harris, a financial services expert with more than three decades of experience, is currently a Senior Client Advisor and was formerly Vice Chairman and Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, where she began working in 1987. Her career took her from working on mergers and acquisitions to large initial public offerings and wealth management. 

Previously, Ms. Harris was appointed to chair the National Women’s Business Council during the Obama administration. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Harvard University and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School. 

Conference organizers did a masterful job of generating interest in attendance, as 79 percent of attendees were first-time participants. Their outreach efforts included an increased focus on diversifying the channels through which they advertised the event, expanding outreach to MIT Sloan’s affinity groups, and highlighting the diverse slate of speakers and panelists.

MIT Sloan Investment Conference: By The Numbers

  • 79

    Percentage of first-time attendees

  • 36

    Percentage of speakers who identified as women

  • 100

    Percentage of keynote speakers from underrepresented groups

“Market demand drives increased focus on diversifying talent pools,” Nicole continued. “The MIT Sloan Investment Conference provided a crash course in what it’s like to be an investor across a variety of asset classes [for a diverse group of potential investors].” 

This year’s event hosted more speakers and attendees from underrepresented groups than ever before, including African American and Latinx participants. The slate of keynote speakers included significantly more women, with 75 percent of featured speakers identifying as female. 

“[MIT Sloan] faculty,” the newly-minted MBAs shared, “embraced the idea of assembling a new wave of speakers and participants.” Nicole and Jake were beyond pleased with both the diversity of current conference attendees and future possibilities.

“Investing is for everybody,” Jake said.