"Meeting the Moment" for Board Diversity

Dottie Schindlinger

“Meeting the Moment” for Board Diversity

“Meeting the Moment” for Board Diversity

Listen to Episode 37 on Apple Podcasts

Guest: Phyllis Campbell, Chairman, Pacific Northwest, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Hosts: Dottie Schindlinger, Executive Director of the Diligent Institute, and Meghan Day, Senior Director of Board Member Experience for Diligent Corporation

In this episode:

  1. Today’s “triple pandemic” complicates leadership. Diverse perspectives around the board table can help corporations respond.
  2. Board composition can move the needle. Campbell suggests disclosures, evaluations, and refreshment—and being prepared for tough conversations.
  3. Help “firsts” feel at home. Informal and formal mentorship can be a lifeline for directors who are “firsts” in terms of gender, ethnic background, or race.


By 2020, many in the governance world expected corporate boards to be at least 30% women. Yet halfway through September, we’re still at 22%, and women of color only constitute 4% to 6% of membership on Fortune 500 boards.

In this episode, podcast co-host Meghan Day discusses the situation with Phyllis Campbell. In addition to holding an executive leadership position with JPMorgan Chase & Co. in the Pacific Northwest, she brings a governance perspective from the boards of two leading consumer companies in sectors that are undergoing great challenges: Alaska Air Group and Nordstrom.

An advocate for diversity in executive leadership, she has also served on the Diversity Advisory Board (DAB) of Toyota, on the nonprofit boards of PATH and the US-Japan Council, and on the global advisory board of Women Corporate Directors (WCD) and the NACD Governance National Advisory Council.

Today’s “triple pandemic” complicates leadership.

Campbell referred to our current times as “the triple pandemic.” Beyond the devastating health and safety issues of COVID-19, the world is concurrently experiencing a crisis of race, discrimination, and inequities. “It has affected every boardroom and every company, particularly in the United States,” she said. Economic fallout is the third aspect, and she predicts this will have “a very long tail.”

In such an environment, companies need to think deeply not only about their business and business model but also about how their company is viewed, what it is doing about issues of systemic racism and injustice, and its overall responsibility to society. How can their boards deliver effective oversight? Campbell encourages multiple viewpoints, backgrounds, and perspectives around the board table.

“If you look at the composition of society, its changing mores and the changing issues that are in front of us today, we all have to really think of diversity.”

— Phyllis Campbell, Chairman, Pacific Northwest, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Board composition can move the needle.

Despite legislation in Europe and certain US states, like California and Washington, and voluntary commitments by many organizations, diversity on boards isn’t moving as swiftly as many—including Campbell and Day—might like.

According to Campbell, tactics like the public disclosures she’s seeing on proxy statements can accelerate progress. “It’s another piece that I think we need,” she says, “making sure that companies are disclosing gender, ethnicity, and other forms of diversity.”

She also suggests that boards actively examine their composition through director evaluations and updated refreshment policies—say through an annual self-evaluation process with an informal mechanism for peer feedback. This enables regular examination of individual board members’ contributions.

“Everybody has a general board evaluation where we all say ‘how’s the board doing?’ but they don’t necessary get to the individual performance or relevance of board members.”

— Phyllis Campbell, Chairman, Pacific Northwest, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

In today’s environment, companies can ill afford complacency or stale perspectives. Could that board seat could be occupied by someone more relevant to the current challenges? (If the answer’s “yes,” be prepared for tough conversations, she warns.)

Now is the time to bring more innovative thinking to your board. “Who are the board members that can raise the right questions and put things in context, so you can think about how to do business differently?”

Help “firsts” feel at home.

“Many women and people of color are going to find themselves being ‘the first,’ and that’s really difficult.”

— Phyllis Campbell, Chairman, Pacific Northwest, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

As an increasing number of first-time board members join from more diverse backgrounds, Campbell suggests that boards create a mentoring system. Here a new board member is paired with a more experienced director for guidance—for example, debriefing after a board meeting to discuss impressions and obstacles and give advice based on what they know about management, the board, the culture and tone.

“We’ve gotten great feedback,” she says. “It’s an easy thing to do, but you have to actually make it happen.”

What steps can you take if you’re the first-time director?

Look for an ally who’s been in a similar situation—or if that’s not possible, the lead director. “There’s always someone,” she says. Schedule calls after a meeting to debrief and get coaching—say if you feel like your ideas are not being heard.

“You’re bringing a different point of you which is why we have diversity and a diverse point of view,” she says. “Stay at it, don’t take it personally, get back in the conversation.”

Also in this episode . . .

Campbell talks about her involvement with Board Ready, which helps organizations recruit and train more diverse boards, and how the recent death of Congressman John Lewis has made her think about governance in a new light. “How do we examine as leaders in business our own views and our own place in making change today?”

Schindlinger and Day also give a shameless plug for this year’s Modern Governance Summit. All virtual under the theme “Meeting the Moment,” it’s two “totally free, amazing sessions” for governance professionals worldwide September 17-18.

Listen to Episode 37 on Apple Podcasts

Resources in this episode