Remarks & Statements
Remarks by Ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis on Diversity at Morgan Stanley
October 30, 2012
- as prepared -
Thank you, Daniela and thank you to all those who helped organize today’s event. I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak about diversity at Morgan Stanley because I know this is a top priority for your company. And of course, the issues of tolerance and respect for human dignity - regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or physical ability - are among the top priorities of the United States’ domestic and foreign policies.
Throughout our history, the United States has drawn strength from the diversity of our people. We have become the nation we are today because of the talents and hard work of Americans of all races, genders, faiths, ethnic origins and sexual orientation.
In today’s rapidly changing and interconnected world, embracing diversity is more important than ever. We firmly believe that it helps to generate change that benefits not only individual companies and institutions, but strengthens our country as a whole, and allows us to continue to lead the world.
Of course, it has been a long road for us in the US. The civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s set us on a course to ensure equal protection under the law for minorities. And during this administration, President Obama has taken steps to continue to advance the cause. In August 2011, President Obama issued an executive order requiring government agencies to develop plans for improving federal workforce diversity. President Obama is the first African American President. But white Americans still hold the vast majority of senior pay-level positions within the U.S. government. This executive order, and the plans that followed, have created a measurable effect in the level of diversity in our government overall.
I would like to talk more specifically about what this administration has done to improve gender balance in the workplace. In the beginning of his time in office, the President Obama said: “I ran for President to put the same rights, the same opportunities, and the same dreams within the reach of our daughters and our sons alike.” From creating the White House Council on Women and Girls to appointing two women to the Supreme Court as well as high ranking women to his Cabinet and White House staff, President Obama has taken concrete steps to ensure that women’s voices are heard in government and society.
And that brings us to Lilly Ledbetter. Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear for almost 20 years in a position held by few other women. One day, someone slipped her an anonymous note. That’s when she learned that the salaries and the seniority levels of the men she worked with far outpaced her own – with differences between 15 and 40 percent. It may seem surprising, but according to a recent Time magazine report, American women still only earn between 77 and 91 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make.
Well, to make a long story short, Lily Ledbetter lost her legal battles – which went all the way to the United States Supreme Court - because of the statute of limitations on such cases. In other words, she waited too long to complain – even though she never knew, all those years, that she was being discriminated against.
The first piece of legislation that President Obama signed into law when he came into office was the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration act, so that what happened to Lily wouldn’t happen to others who suffer discriminatory acts.
Obamacare, officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 includes significant new benefits and protections for women. For example, new guidelines were set forth for women’s preventive healthcare, including mammograms and domestic violence counseling. And starting in 2014, many health plans that did not cover the medical cost associated with pregnancy will be required, under law, to do so.
The President has also strived to ensure equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT). As you may know, a year ago President Obama repealed the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Act, allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the U.S. military. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) now requires all hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds – just about every hospital in America – to respect the right of all patients to choose who may visit them during a hospital stay, including a visitor who is a same-sex domestic partner. President Obama also signed a memorandum expanding federal benefits for the same-sex partners of Foreign Service and executive branch government employees.
In 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which extends the coverage of Federal hate crimes law to include attacks based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. As you may know, Matthew Shepard was killed in 1998 in a violent and heartbreaking hate crime. Just a few months ago, his parents - Judy and Dennis Shepard – came to Hungary as part of our Embassy’s work in promoting tolerance. They met with politicians, police officers, students, media and non-government organizations to share the story of their son and to spread their message of tolerance and acceptance of human differences.
The U.S. Government is committed to nurturing a society that values the contributions of all of its citizens and that certainly includes the people with disabilities who also suffer from exclusion, indifference and discrimination.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace, was an enormous leap forward for the United States. And more recently, several important legislative acts were also signed into law. The National Alzheimer’s Project Act, the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. The list is long and extensive. Today, 650 million people - 10 percent of the world's population - live with some kind of disability, and we can’t afford to ignore them.
As Secretary Clinton said “The story of America is the story of people coming together to tear down barriers, stand up for rights, and insist on equality, not only for themselves but for all people.” As you can see, we have made important progress in our quest toward a more perfect union and I am proud to say that our Embassy here in Hungary has also worked tirelessly to support diversity here too. So, I would like to spend some time to tell you about our activities and programs.
This year, our Embassy supported the LGBT community at the Eurogames held here in Budapest, as well as at the Pride Cultural and Film Festival – in fact, as some of you may know, I am the first US Ambassador here to march in the Pride parade – and I am also very proud to be a patron of the production of the Pulitzer-prize winning play about AIDS, Angels in America, which debuted on September 28 at the National Theater.
The State Department has robust programs bringing Americans to Hungary and Hungarians to the U.S. I already mentioned the visit of the Shepards and this fall, we will send a representative from the Hungarian LGBT community to an international exchange program in the United States focused on advocating for human and civil rights.
And there are others. Last March, we invited one of Forbes’ ten most powerful women entrepreneurs, mother of six and CEO of a major US construction company, Theresa Daytner, for a three-day program on business development, gender equality, entrepreneurship and active citizenship. Daytner spoke with young female entrepreneurs, civil society activists, and HR professionals.
Then in April, Anna Niszkacs, General Manager of the family run, legendary Gerbeaud, went to the United States and attended our program called “Women and Entrepreneurship.” This December, we are proud to bring Astronaut Dr. Marsha Ivins here to Hungary, and I know she is really looking forward to coming to this country, which is one of so many renowned scientists.
Our Embassy is also working to improve opportunities for Roma to participate in the political, social, economic and cultural life of Hungary. One of our programs selects highly qualified young Roma men and women to serve as interns in the Embassy for two months while learning English and interacting in a professional working environment. They become better prepared for gainful employment or higher education, and get a solid boost to their resume. Through our small grants we also support programs in and outside Budapest to reach out to the younger generation of Roma.
Before I conclude, I’d like to quote Secretary Clinton who said once that “Diversity represents our values and traditions.” I cannot agree more with this and that’s why I came to speak to you today. As workforce demographics shift and global markets emerge, workplace diversity is becoming a business necessity. Diversity helps to build the company’s reputation, leading to greater profitability and opportunities for workers. An organization known for its ethics, fair employment practices and appreciation for diverse talent is better able to attract qualified applicants and loyal customers who choose to do business with companies whose business practices are socially responsible. I am confident that you at Morgan Stanley already fully realize these advantages and I would like to, once again, thank the organizers of this important event. Now I’ll be happy to answer your questions. Thank you very much.