5 tips on how to join a board of directors

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“Course refreshers aren’t happening as quickly as any of us would like.” Jane Sadowsky (L), Senior Advisor at Moelis and Company, shares tips on joining boards at the Most Powerful Women in Banking conference . Beside her: Maria Morris (C), board member at Wells Fargo and S&P Global, and Martina Cheung (R), president of S&P Global Ratings.

Victoria Zhuang

When Jane Sadowsky began her career in finance in the 1980s, women on boards were a rare oddity. “It wasn’t discussed. It wasn’t done,” she said.

Things have changed since then, as evidenced by her own career. Sadowsky who worked was an investment banker at Citi and Evercore before becoming senior advisor for diversity and inclusion at investment bank Moelis & Company, and also serves on the boards of two metals mining companies and one private equity firm.

But it’s still not easy as “the refreshment of board members this year is not going as fast as we would like,” she said.

Sadowsky shared tips for women in a panel last month get hold of the coveted board seats that Wall Street has been closed to them in the past. Sadowsky was joined by Maria Morris, who retired from her career as an insurance manager at Metlife and is now a board member at Wells Fargo and S&P Global Ratings. Martina Cheung, President of S&P Global, moderated the conversation at the American Banker’s Most Powerful Women in Banking Conference in New York.

Cheung began the session by reviewing a survey of conference attendees that found that 45% of bankers surveyed said they currently serve on a board of directors. When asked if they plan to join a board, 83% said yes, suggesting that women in finance have a gap between wanting to join a board and being able to.

“We don’t have a supply problem,” Sadowsky said, looking around the room and noting that there were about 200 eligible female leaders. Instead, it’s about limited openings, she said.

Citing research she believes will be released later this year, Sadowsky said only about 400 board seats will be “refreshed” or made available in 2022, out of around 5,000 seats among S&P 500 companies.

“About half of that goes to external search, and half of that goes to the network that board members and their social networks already have. So we’re expecting 200 seats in any given year for the S&P 500,” Sadowsky said.

IPOs and SPAC activities that would otherwise have created board seats also dried up that year. And in the landscape of ongoing mergers and acquisitions, each of those deals also shrinks the number of board seats by half, Sadowsky said.

In the meantime, for a banker or financial services professional looking to join a board, below are five tips panelists shared about how they did it and what they learned from their membership.

To view this year’s list of the most powerful women in banking, click here. For the most powerful women in finance, click here. For our list of the most powerful women to watch, click here.

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