Making Inclusion a Priority for the Board

By Kyle Sell, CPA, Deloitte & Touche LLP, and 2019/20 president, NJCPA – November 12, 2019
Making Inclusion a Priority for the Board

Whether it’s a board of directors or board of trustees, today’s boards are more diverse than they were even five years ago. This group of appointed individuals should not only represent an organization’s members, customers and talent; it should also con­sider future members, business prospects and new business partners. But when an inclusive culture also exists at an organiza­tion, true change is possible. It’s a board’s responsibility to help govern an organiza­tion with an awareness of both diversity and inclusion policies. At the NJCPA, I was pleased to have shared this concept with the Board of Trustees in September, and I will be participating in planned meetings on this topic with members throughout the year.    

A 2019 Deloitte Insights report, authored by Mike Fucci, former chairman of the board at Deloitte, and Terri Cooper, U.S. chief inclusion officer for Deloitte, shows why it is important for boards to educate organizations about this issue, how it can impact strategy and how to monitor inclu­sion performance. This is relevant for all sizes of boards and even small to mid-size CPA firms can apply the concept as well. Here are some important ways that boards can ingrain inclusion into their organiza­tional strategy: 

  • Align with management on the defi­nition of inclusion, and proactively provide input to shape the inclusion vision, strategies and goals.
  • Understand the organization’s diver­sity and inclusion maturity levels and efforts; request information from man­agement to inform the board’s guid­ance for addressing the organization’s significant gaps.
  • Stay aware of the enablers and barriers to fostering an inclusive culture (which may also impact the organization’s diversity); evaluate and approve major solutions toward promoting enablers and breaking down barriers as recom­mended by management. 

Boards of varying sizes will be able to implement inclusive policies at different paces but in order to foster inclusion at the start, it’s common to first conduct a self-assessment of inclusive governance practices and develop a plan to embed inclusion into all board processes. Boards can then determine whether they want to form an inclusion-specific committee or have a specific person within the board take charge of that. 

So how can one tell whether leaders will follow through on this diversity and inclu­sion endeavor? The Insights report outlined six signature traits of inclusive leadership: 

  • Commitment — dedication to culti­vating a diverse, inclusive workforce 
  • Courage — willing to challenge entrenched attitudes and practices, and acknowledge personal limitations 
  • Cognizance of bias — make an effort to identify personal biases and prevent them from influencing talent decisions 
  • Curiosity — demonstrate open-mindedness and a desire for an exposure to new ideas 
  • Cultural intelligence — change personal style in response to different cultural norms
  • Collaboration — create an environ­ment in which all individuals can feel empowered

And employees will reward an organization whose leadership has these traits by staying at the organization and wanting to grow with it. According to the Insights report, “employees see inclusion as one of the most important factors in deciding where to work, and they want inclusion to be fun­damental to their daily work experiences.” It’s not just the board-level executives who should be part of this mix; managers and other staff play a critical part in champi­oning and driving inclusive behaviors and practices at an organization. 

To measure diversity, organizations can track the rate at which they hire and employ people in various demographics, the report explains. To measure inclu­sion, organizations can analyze retention data, promotions and attrition among the various demographics. These practices will become more commonplace as a full diver­sity and inclusion culture takes hold. 

What also helps is to regularly put a placeholder on board agendas for the discussion of this topic and to report how development is coming along. This will help ensure that the board continues to move towards having an inclusive culture and, more importantly, that everyone is involved in that process. The alternative, after all, can hurt profits, reduce member­ship or number of clients and lead to lower retention rates. As the report notes, this type of culture does not hap­pen overnight; it’s a long process — but one worth pursuing.  

Kyle M. Sell

Kyle M. Sell

Kyle Sell, CPA, audit partner, Deloitte & Touche LLP, Parsippany, is the 2019/20 NJCPA president. Since joining the NJCPA in 2004, Kyle was president of the NJCPA Scholarship Fund and a Board of Trustees liaison for the NJ-CPA-PAC and Student Programs & Scholarships Committee, as well as a member of the Professional Conduct Committee. At Deloitte, Kyle has more than 20 years of experience serving primarily life science, process and industrial companies. He can be reached at

This article appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.