An Interview with Assunta Cicalese, VP of Compensation and workforce Analytics, EMEA Lead at Morgan Stanley

July 23, 2018

Recruiting in reward and analytics can be challenging due to the lack of available candidates. Firms like Morgan Stanley who recognise this gap in the market and constantly strive to recruit top talent, have implemented schemes to re-introduce skilled mothers back in to the workplace.

We recently facilitated the move of Assunta Cicalese, who had taken several years out to become a full-time mother.  Assunta benefitted from the return to work programme that Morgan Stanley operates, and we thought it would be useful to snare her experiences as she acclimatises to her new career.

How have you settled in at Morgan Stanley?

I have settled in really well, thank you. Getting the new routine in place, especially with a daughter in school, has been a challenge, however  as time moves on I feel increasingly settled both professionally and on a personal level.

You joined at a notoriously busy time – what has your workload been like and what tasks/projects have you been involved in?

Indeed I joined buo weeks prior to communication day, which is the busiest time ot the year for any compensation and analytics team. knew what to expect and just went with the flow. Now that things are back to normal am getting involved in a number ot projects which provide opportunities to collaborate with colleagues across all HR areas and develop new skills and knowledge which challenge my edge. The work is challenging but the workload is not ovenvnelming_

Having worked as Head ot EMEA Analytics tor another household US bank in your previous role, what have been the main differences between the two organisations?

Actually I was more struck by the similarities than the differences, both in terms of culture and organisational structure. Perhaps it is down to the way interpret the world around me, I tend to overemphasise what is familiar and that has helped me settle in taster In fact sometimes I have the feeling that I nave never lett_

You took a career-gap to raise a young family. Did you have any concerns at the time ot doing so and was your plan always to return to work in the same capacity?

Understandably, I was worried about my future employability . I didnt know what happened to women who had taken a career break to become full-time carers because no one was talking about it at that time. We had a young baby and my husband had just accepted a role at the British Embassy in Paris. Any concerns had were quickly eased by the excitement ot being able to enjoy the first years ot my child’s lite to the tull and moving to Paris, which is a great city.

I like to keep my options open, see what life throws at me, and so far this approach has paid Off. I knew that would go back to work at some point in my life but I didnt have a plan of what, where and when that would be.

Did you enrol in any subscriptions or courses whilst out ot work, and it so, did you tind them useful?

When my daughter started school, I found myself with more time and started to think about my own ambitions again. felt the need to challenge myself intellectually and decided to apply tor a Masters in Psychology, a subject that has always interested me and which had the potential to open new career avenues in the tuture_ Having been accepted on the course, found it extremely useful as it covered every branch ot psychology and offered the opportunity to acquire new knowledge while at the same time brush up old skills such as statistics, which nave potential practical applications within my current role. Additionally, believe that having this qualification made my CV stand out. It showed that am not afraid to challenge myself and that am capable ot driving my own personal development. These are qualities that employers always look tor in potential candidates.

Why did you decide to return to work?

As my daughter grew older, my role as a mother evolved _ The few hours she has after school are filled with activities and my duties involved mainly caning her around trom one place to the next. decided that it was time to re-establish my professional identity and slowly rebuild my career also felt that owed this to my daughter am her most important female role model and I didnt want her to grow up with the belief that having a career is something that only dads can do.

What concerns did you have around returning to the workplace?

My main concerns revolved around my ability to juggle work and family lite. Successful women are frequently portrayed as super-humans capable ot Juggling career and family seamlessly I always wondered now someone ‘normal’, like me, would cope With a demanding full-time job and a tamily_ From my experience so tar would say it is possible tor women to nave a career and a family as long as you nave a good suppor neb,vork around you. nave a supporting husband and a good au pair, tailing that, Morgan Stanley offers all employees an emergency childcare service, and the ability to work flexibly.

Why were you interested in Morgan Stanley as an employer?

I had previously worked tor top tier investment banks and I felt instinctively comfortable with that sort ot organsaüon_

Most importantly though, I was impressed by Morgan Stanley’s efforts to bring back women like me to the workplace through their Return To Work program. like the idea that they are focusing on the value that experienced women can add and that they are prepared to provide the necessary support to make a successful return to work possible.

What was the time trame trom your initial search to being offered the role at Morgan Stanley?

Just under three months. I was lucky as Morgan Stanley had just started recruiting tor this role when I started looking.

How have the firm supported you in returning to the workplace after several years out, and what programmes do they run to encourage people to interview and join the firm?

There is of course formal training, however what find most valuable is the ongoing support I receive trom my manager, my team and individuals outside ot my immediate team. As mentioned before, the firm also run a return to work programme to encourage people to interview and join the organisation. 

How has working culture changed since you left your previous role and what measures have you taken to quickly adapt?

I think that the working culture has changed tor the better. There is a lot more flexibility in the way people work at Morgan Stanley, and a lot more emphasis on work-lite balance. For example you are immediately set up to work from home and that is immensely valuable when you are juggling work and family needs. Adapting was easier than I thought.

Did you have any difficulty grasping new systems and did you have to re-teach yourself how to use Microsoft packages like Excel, Powerpoint and Access again?

Luckily, I had used the newest versions ot Microsoft Excel, Powerpoint and Access during my master degree. Hence I had already reviewed those and was aware of the new functionalities.

What have been the main challenges since returning to work on a professional and personal level?

On a professional level, one of the main challenges is overcoming the tendency to put myself under pressure, to try and prove myself in the shortest time. I often need to remind myself that it is ok to reach out for help and support when needed. I am still working on this.

Also managing my time effectively has been a challenge, especially the desire to spend quality time with my family. I feel my weekends are more precious than before. 

What advice would you give people who are considering returning to the workplace?

It you are considering returning to the workplace, make sure that you are doing it at the right time for yourself and your family.  Carefully consider all the factors which may impact your ability to go back to work and now you can ease the transition tor yourself and your family. Your support network at home will have to be fully engaged in your plan. Once you have made your decision, don’t hold back. Review your CV and brush up your interviewing skills; get in touch with your network of old colleagues, business associates and recruiters.

After contacting Frazer Jones, I was pleasantly surprised now positive they were about my chances ot returning to work. Understandably, I was nervous and had many doubts about my ability to be considered as a candidate, but they were incredibly supportive and put all my doubts at rest. The consultants were knowledgeable about recent developments within the industry and confident that my career gap would nave little effect on my chances to get employed. I really appreciated their consultative approach throughout all stages ot the recruitment process.

What advice would you give employers on assisting return to work mothers to make the active choice to re-enter the workplace?

Mothers who want to re-enter the workplace after a career break often need to rebuild their confidence and be made aware that their skills and experience are still valuable assets. It is also important tor employers to emphasise the type ot suppor they are prepared to give in order to make the transition back to work possible. For example offering the ability to work flexibly and generally encouraging a culture which acknowledges that work and family life dont necessarily have to be in conflict with each other.