Women On The Move
Gena Harper, November’s Woman On The Move is in a word dynamite. In her professional role, Gena is a Senior Vice President and Investing with Impact Director at Morgan Stanley. For many people, a career path like Gena’s would be daunting by itself yet she manages it beautifully and she does it totally blind. Aside from her charisma, what impresses me the most about Gena is her ability to motivate others, she is a living example of bravery.
Below Gena’s interview with Nasreen Bhutta is the transcript. Enjoy! ~Steph
Bravery, Confidence & Authority The Keys To Success
Welcome to Bold Blind Beauty, the home of Beyond Sight Magazine, an online community where Real Beauty Transcends Barriers. Our Women On The Move segments focus on monthly profiles of inspirational women, their capabilities, achievements, and journeys, as they navigate through the course of sight loss and blindness. I’m your host Nasreen.
For our November 2020 segment, our featured guest, one of the very few women out there who is a totally blind financial advisor with Morgan Stanley Wealth and does not let sight get in her way of achieving her vision. She is a board member, a parent, a medal winner and so much more. Let’s meet the tenacious Gena Harper. Welcome, Gena.
Thank you. I’m very excited to be here with you.
Great to have you this afternoon. A question you often ask of others, Gena is one I’m going to ask of you this afternoon. What is your vision for living a life full of meaning?
I thought that was so amusing when you mentioned that question. I’ve really been pondering on that and I would say that my vision of leading a meaningful life is being inspiring, being courageous, being an educator in my work.
And in my personal life educating people on blindness to make my life better, as well as making others’ better. To educate as a financial consultant my clients on their financial matters, and that’s why I ask this question, and also to constantly strive to be better and to have a lot of fun.
Financial and fun.
That’s exactly [crosstalk 00:01:38].
You are also passionate about empowering others. Share some of the ways in which you accomplish this.
My best approach to empower others is to be a role model and to put myself out in the community. I do lots of volunteer work and donate money and try to put myself out in a way that I am seen and think people can Google me and get information and where I share how I live my life and how I’ve accomplished the things I’ve accomplished.
And really on a one-on-one basis with individuals, as I encounter things in my life, just hoping that other people can see how I do it or how I handle things, which don’t always go right. And also to learn like by me just having conversations with them and educating them so not everybody has to go through the same struggles that we go through, I think learning from others. And so putting myself out there, too, so others can learn from me is probably the best way I can empower others.
Your mission/vision on breaking the barriers with employers, on hiring more diverse talent, mainly folks with disabilities, what are some of the challenges that you are still experiencing in those conversations?
Well, I don’t think the dial’s moved much on that topic, which makes me really sad. What I do is I actively seek out people that I know through networking and ask to speak as a presenter at events at individual companies. I do all kinds of public speaking to employers on hiring disabled people. My point in that is, I think the thing that really is the barrier that you’re asking about is individuals’ misperceptions of blind people’s capabilities.
So sadly, it’s a one-person at a time learning. But the other issue is organizations that really have that as their mandate, it might be a pillar of their corporation’s mission statement, but in reality, it really ends up being in the hands of the person that you interview with and whatever their experience or lack thereof experiences with individuals with any kind of disability and their mindset is the barrier.
Well said, Gena. You do a lot of great work within the community and consider yourself an influencer and you’ve had an incredible journey so far. Any advice for young blind women who are just starting their careers?
Well, when I was really young I dealt with just serious self-esteem issues that I think all young people deal with. Then if you add blindness or some other disability on top of that, I think it makes it worse. So one thing that I would advise people is to, whatever it takes, to find self-confidence. And also to not give your authority away, which means to me, if somebody tells you, you can’t do something or you’re not capable, or a blind person can’t do that, to not listen to them.
I used to listen to people that I thought, they were teachers I had or other adults in my life that what I found myself in was the predicament of [inaudible 00:04:55] self-confident and trusting pretty much the trusted people in my life, which would be teachers, types of advisors or just adults in my life. I just didn’t have it within me to think, “Oh, they’re wrong. They don’t know.” I believed them.
Finally, I went to a school for the blind where I met a lot of blind people that were… Well, they run the gamut. The ones I were attracted to were the overachievers. They really inspired me. They set good role models for me. They told me I can do this. That really changed the game for me.
So I would say definitely don’t listen to people that tell you, you can’t do things. Find other role models with your disability, or whatever your issue is because everybody has issues, that are inspiring to you, that would be a good mentor and reach out to them.
You definitely have to be brave and bold, okay? So our Bold Blind Beauty, we would add brave. You have to be brave because you have to put yourself out there and be vulnerable and be willing to take no for an answer. And when somebody tells you, no, you just ignore it and you say, “Okay, thank you.” And then you go onto the next person until you get a yes. That’s really my advice.
Persistence, keep pushing. I love that, Bold Blind Beauty and brave.
And brave, exactly!
How do you find the balance between your professional and your personal life? You’re out in the community a lot. You’re working. You’re a mother. You’re a parent. You love sports. You won medals. You’ve been across the world. That must be hard to juggle all of that and keep sane.
Trying to balance things, I would say, is the number one challenge I have in my life. Part of it is that I am one of the most curious people you’ll find in the world and I am a lifelong learner. So I want to sign up for everything. I want to know how to do everything.
Fun is really one of my passions in life. So I’m like, “Oh, that sounds fun. I should sign up for that!” I don’t give a lot of thought about how many hours in a day and that I need sleep and a few other minor details like that. So I really have worked on using mindfulness and doing meditation. I have worked on slowing down, which is really an oxymoron for me, and that I try to make sure there is time for rest and for meditation. I try to be really efficient.
I do leverage people and try to deal with people in my life that I know… I try to work on what I do best and let others do other things, so a good delegator, so delegating and using leverage. I take on too much, so I wouldn’t say I really have a balanced life.
I have too much to do in life, but I enjoy it. The thing about it is, it’s fun and exciting. I know that there’s a price to pay for having a not balanced life. I’m not really willing to pay that price. I do want to balance my life more, but I’ve just driven because I’m kind of an Energizer bunny and I just want to accomplish a lot and I enjoy doing that.
I can hear the passion and your drive and need to thrive coming out. I thought that’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. How can we reach you, Gena?
The best way to reach me is by my personal or business email. So my personal email is Gena with an E. So it’s G-E-N-A@G-E-N-A-H-A-R-P-E-R.com. Or Gena spelled G-E-N-A.D for [Diane 00:00:08:30].firstname.lastname@example.org, so M-S like Morgan Stanley. So those are the best ways to reach me. I am on Instagram, so feel free to follow me, and Twitter. So those are the best ways.
Thanks Gena, for sharing your incredible and insightful journey with us. You’ll be able to find Gena’s story in Beyond Sight Magazine, under Women on the Move for November 2020 at boldblindbeauty.com. Thanks for listening.
Gena Harper was born with congenital Glaucoma, but she has never let that stop her from accomplishing her goals or motivating others to reach for their dreams.
Tenacious and inspiring, Gena is one of the very few blind Financial Advisors at Morgan Stanley and in the United States. She is a Certified Investment Management Analyst® (CIMA) and an Investing with Impact Director, a designation which recognizes advisors who are leaders in delivering holistic portfolio management for clients incorporating sustainable investing. Along with her business partner of more than three decades, Gena provides custom financial planning for her clients that delves into and simplifies even the most complex situations. Her commitment to meeting life head-on extends to her work with her clients, encouraging them to look beyond the immediate and challenge themselves to live full and meaningful lives.
In 1995, Gena became the first recipient of The Glaucoma Foundation Award of Merit, which recognizes an individual whose life has been profoundly affected by glaucoma and who has responded to the challenge with courage and distinction. As part of its partnership with MAKERS, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management recognized Gena as one of the 15 outstanding women professionals in March, 2015. In addition, she has received the Women of Vision Award, the American Foundation for the Blind Kay Gallagher Award, and The Glaucoma Foundation Award.
Gena Harper has spent her entire adult life proving that limitations are simply hurdles to be cleared. She believes everyone should have a vision, whether they can see or not.
- Header – In this outdoor headshot, Gena Harper is wearing a black jacket with a light green shirt. A flowing bush is in the background.
- Beyond Sight Magazine Cover – A headshot of Gena with long wavy blonde hair and a big smile is featured on the cover. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). There are 5 lines of text that say “Bravery, Confidence & Authority The Keys To Success.” In the bottom right corner is a teal circle with an illustration of Abby rollerblading. She has on a black crop tank top complete with her logo on the front with black shorts, and gray & teal roller blades. And of course, Abby wouldn’t be Abby without her signature explosive hairstyle, and “Women On The Move” is yellow text under the circle.
- The gallery is two photos of Gena. In the first one, she’s sitting in a 300-year-old tree and in the second one, she is standing near the ocean.