How Corporate Boards can help Diversity and Inclusion Thrive: Kathleen Franklin

Contributed by
Chambers D&I Advisory Board Kathleen Franklin Sony
31 Mar 2020

Kathleen Franklin has 30 years of experience working with Boards of Directors and CEOs of Fortune 500 global companies, both as a senior executive and trusted advisor. Her diverse business experiences include risk management, corporate governance, M&A, crisis management, and executive compensation; and her industry background spans financial services, entertainment, electronics, medical devices, healthcare, construction, cable television, insurance, energy, and consumer products. She currently sits on Chambers Diversity & Inclusion’s Global Advisory Board.

In her current role as Sony Group’s Global Ethics and Compliance Strategy Leader, Kathleen has implemented multiple initiatives to improve the effectiveness of its ethics programs and support an ethical business culture. In 2017, Kathleen joined the board of Bank OZK as an independent director where she sits on the nominating, governance, and compensation committees. She is also an influential champion for change – a keen flag bearer for diversity and inclusion in the workplace:

Although we are living in a world with continuing socio-political challenges, there is definitely a cultural shift emerging; I believe that we are certainly taking more steps forwards than backwards. Institutional investors are increasingly incorporating a focus on nonfinancial performance related to environment, social and governance into their investment decisions; and this has been very beneficial in highlighting the need for diversity both on the board and in the workforce as companies must act in alignment with their shareholders’ needs. Institutional investors are seeking a diversified board that supports the company’s long-term business strategy and incorporates diversity of backgrounds, experiences, race and gender-  so companies have to deliver.”

Kathleen’s wealth of experience, as a law firm partner and now in-house ethics & compliance leader, led to the development of skills necessary for successful board directorship. In 2007, she joined the inaugural class of DirectWomen, a collaborative project between the American Bar Association and Catalyst. In short, DirectWomen is a national non-profit that works to increase the representation of women on corporate boards. Over twenty-seven percent of its alumnae serve on at least one large corporate board. DirectWomen certainly helped Kathleen get board ready – she was prepared to immediately pursue potential board responsibilities following her chance meeting with the Bank OZK’s Lead Director:

“The DirectWomen conferences not only connect you with DirectWomen’s extensive alumnae and honoree network but also deliver practical sessions such as getting your CV board ready and promoting your personal brand. I met the Lead Director of Bank OZK when I sat next to him at a non-profit board event. We had a lovely conversation during our brief encounter about how he takes great care, as Lead Director, to intentionally include leaders from every demographic, gender, race and geography with an eye on corporate cultural intelligence and shared values. My prior preparation apparently permitted me to highlight my relevant skills.”

Shortly following the meeting, the Lead Director approached Kathleen and asked if she was interested in applying for vacancy on the Bank OZK board. When asked, she was ready. The link between a diversity-linked business strategy and financial performance is not lost on Kathleen. “It is incumbent upon directors, as fiduciaries, to understand the direct correlation between diversity and financial performance and help ensure that the appropriate programs are in place to help maximize financial performance.”

Kathleen mentions that the growing number of female board members and female GCs are using their positions to recommend candidates and ensure the board looks for qualified talent through a variety of means, so that the best and most diverse talent are approached.

Kathleen has also played an influential part in the Committee of Chief Legal Officers and Governance Experts convened by the Thirty Per Cent Coalition. Founded in 2011, the Thirty Percent Coalition is a pioneer organization advocating for diversity in the corporate boardroom. Their vision is for senior leadership and boards of directors to reflect the gender, racial, and ethnic diversity of the US workforce. The mission of the Thirty Percent Coalition is to promote gender diversity, including minority women, on corporate boards. The Committee of Chief Legal Officers developed a best practice guide that CLOs can promote which includes:

  • Ensuring relevant board committees routinely include female candidates in the pool for every board search;
  • Encouraging searches to go beyond CEOs in identifying candidates;
  • Assisting CEOs with identifying, developing and sponsoring their senior women who are potential board candidates; and
  • Ensuring that search firms understand their company’s commitment to recruiting boards that are gender, racially and ethnically diverse.

With continued socio-political disparities and growing economic discontent worldwide , it is crucial that businesses step up and ensure that they have widened their outreach in attracting diverse talent, as well as creating inclusive working environments that ensure diverse teams thrive and feel supported.

For Kathleen, she continues to be inspired by the women she has worked with over the years such as Iawyer and former Chair of DirectWomen, Roberta Liebenberg, the former President of the Thirty Percent Coalition, Vicki Kramer and the former President of Sony Entertainment and Sony Corporation of America, Nicole Seligman. Her inspiration comes from “women who have used their success and stature to turn around and help others through their own personal time and resources.” We hope that we continue to see champions for change like Kathleen Franklin at the forefront of corporate inclusion and witness a proactive generation behind her to which she can pass on the mantle.