WSJ: J.P. Morgan team helps clients clamoring for more diverse boards

Oct 10, 2017

As boards seek to add women, Simon and her team help companies open the door for more diverse board candidates.

Just over a year old, JPMorgan Chase’s Director Advisory Services group has recommended more than 700 directors to over 70 clients looking to add new board members. Around 65% of those directors have been women, reports The Wall Street Journal in a recent story.

The Advisory Services group, led by Karen Simon, has found that companies are very focused on more diverse boards, and in many cases that means adding more women.

According to industry experts, women often approach questions differently than men, focusing on people and looking beyond the numbers.

In 2017, women made up 36% of new independent directors, from 32% in 2016, according to data from executive-recruitment firm Spencer Stuart. However, women as a percentage of all directors was up only one percentage point to 22% in 2017, from 21% the prior year. Women are just beginning to make progress, reports the Journal.

Simon and her team cultivate networks of qualified candidates and make referrals to client companies. Clients have placed a number of the recommended candidates on their boards. Several candidates are currently being reviewed, and around a dozen are in the final stages, says Simon, adding that 85% of requests the group has received has been for female directors.

Simon came to her new role after more than 30 years at the firm. She spent two decades in London, where she ultimately led its private -equity coverage group. Her experience also includes serving as vice chairman of investment banking for global oil and gas coverage in Houston and as head of the firm’s private-equity coverage group in New York.

Part of her goal, Simon told the Journal, is to broaden the candidate pool by getting new names in the mix and meeting regularly with J.P. Morgan clients looking for directors, as well as with potential board candidates. She also frequently hears from executives within JPMorgan Chase who have referrals.

The firm itself has served as a leader in corporate diversity and remains committed to doing so. JPMorgan Chase currently has two women and one African-American man on its 12-member board. Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon has been clear about his support for diversity, noting that among people in the firm who could succeed him, several are women. As of February 2018 when a woman becomes head of human resources, 50% of the top executives who report to Dimon will be women.

Following the firm’s annual Board Summit in June, J.P. Morgan hosted a dinner for nearly 50 female directors, an event that forged connections. Debbie Kissire, a former regional managing partner for Ernst & Young who now serves on three public boards, was one of those directors.  

Kissire was impressed by the quality and diversity of the audience at the firm’s event, and shortly afterwards, a few of the women shared their résumés and the types of board positions they were seeking. They’re now on Kissire’s “watch-out-for list,” as reported in the Journal.

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