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State Board Report

September 2012

Have you ever been watching a television broadcast when the commentator warns that an upcoming video may contain graphic content so that you may want to divert your eyes? Well, this article may contain content that is politically edgy to some (just in case you want to go on to the next article).

Outside my office in Nashville is a wall of photos of the Chairs of NASBA who served over the past 17 years, since NASBA has been headquartered in Nashville. I walk by those photos numerous times every day and often stop to look at the faces of those fine leaders, most of whom I have gotten to know during my tenure as both a NASBA volunteer and employee. I usually point out the wall of Chair photos when I show visitors and guests around our facility. On several occasions someone will mention the lack of diversity. Not surprising. In fact, in the past 17 years, 15 of our chairs have been men…white men.

I want to be clear that I would not want to dissuade anyone from seeking the Chair position, nor am I being critical of any of the men on the wall — or the volunteers who elected them. Each Chair was, or continues to be, a dynamic leader who brought new ideas and enhancements to NASBA. I am also not being critical of our current selection process. Our bylaws provide for a fair and equitable process through which State Boards regionally elect Nominating Committee members, who in turn recommend to the State Boards a candidate to become Vice Chair and then to accede to Chair. What I am challenging us all to consider is the culture of NASBA which has somehow failed to encourage women and minorities to aspire to, seek and hold NASBA’s highest office.

I recently had a conversation with Sandra A. Suran, NASBA’s 2011 William H. Rensselaer Award winner and NASBA’s second woman Chair, in 1984-85 (called “President” in 1984). During that conversation, she freely discussed her concern about how the lack of diversity of our volunteer leadership might ultimately harm NASBA.

Like Colonel Oliver North’s attorney’s famous remark during the Senate hearings into the Iran-Contra affair, “I am not a potted plant.” As NASBA’s President and CEO, I share the responsibility to promote and protect the reputation of this great organization. When an esteemed leader like Sandra Suran has the wherewithal to reach out and candidly comment about the need to promote diversity in our leadership, then maybe it is time to get the issue out into the bright light of day and to begin a dialog of how we can do better. Just as when Nathan T. Garrett (NASBA President 1992-1993) told the 2011 Annual Meeting it was time to make sure current professional regulations prohibit discrimination in employment – and our Uniform Accountancy Act Committee did that.

On a recent Saturday morning I was having coffee with my wife Sheilah before heading over to the quiet NASBA office to write the next President’s Memo. She asked if I had decided upon the topic, and I mentioned my idea of “Photos on the Wall,” and suggested that it might be a bit of a politically slippery slope. She responded, “Well, you have always led with your chin and it has served you pretty well.” As I drove the 25 miles from my house to the office, I continued to consider the idea. Ultimately I concluded that if I didn’t raise the issue now, I might be driving to the office in five years wishing that I had.

NASBA’s primary constituency is you, our 55 State Boards of Accountancy. I have had the opportunity to attend many of your Boards’ meetings, so I know that most Boards are well balanced with men and women and ethnically diverse. As there is no shortage of tremendously qualified women and people of color on our State Boards, my questions to those Board members are: How do we encourage you toward pursuing a leadership role in NASBA? Are there perceived barriers we need to address?

I should point out that NASBA is certainly not void of having strong women and people of color serving in key volunteer leadership roles. Our current Board of Directors has women and people of color with outstanding professional knowledge and people skills. They include Directors at-Large Walter C. Davenport, Theodore W. Long, Jr., and Laurie J. Tish, Southwest Regional Director Janice L. Gray and Mountain Regional Director Karen Forrest Turner. Diane M. Rubin, one of the two women in the “Photos on the Wall” and one of the four women Chairs in the past 50 years, served as NASBA’s Chair in 2005-6 and continues to be a respected representative of NASBA, nationally and internationally. Our Past Chairs Committee is enriched by the participation of Nathan T. Garrett and Thomas Iino (President 1985-86).

It is not unusual for me to receive calls and e-mails from you regarding the content of the President’s Memo. I will be interested in your reaction to this piece. Regardless of whether it is positive or not so positive, I believe this is a timely, fair and important discussion. As President Harry Truman used to say, “At least it will knock the bubble off center.” We will ultimately see if there will be more diverse faces among the “Photos on the Wall.”

Semper ad meliora. (Always toward better things.)

— Ken L. Bishop
President and CEO

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