October 1, 2021

Putting Inclusion at the Center

October 1, 2021

NACD has launched the new NACD Center for Inclusive Governance (the Center). NACD Content Team members recently spoke with the Honorable Cari Dominguez, NACD board member and former chair of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, about the Center. Dominguez, who will serve as chair of the Center, has a background in employment law, talent management, human resources, executive search, financial services, and corporate governance. Her responses to our team are below.

What is the NACD Center for Inclusive Governance?

The Center is really a tool that directors, management, and others can use to challenge their conventional thinking about DE&I [diversity, equity, and inclusion] practices. It will house NACD’s most current research on DE&I issues and highlight events, thought leadership, and tools that members and nonmembers can access to advance DE&I at their organizations. We are hopeful that it will also serve as a hub where partners, subject-matter experts, and other organizations can share their unique perspectives with the broader community.

Why is NACD creating this center now?

Over the last few months, we have seen an increase in diverse board placements, as well as a strong push by regulators and shareholders for companies to be more transparent about boardroom composition. The NACD Accelerate™ program has been focused on providing pathways to the boardroom from underrepresented communities. The trends are encouraging, but we want to work to ensure that they are also lasting. That was really the genesis for the NACD Center for Inclusive Governance. NACD is in a unique position to influence the future state of the American boardroom. We want to provide boards with the resources they need to be inclusive of new talent, perspectives, and backgrounds so that we can realize the positive long-term impact of these additions on boardroom culture and oversight.

What does the term “inclusive governance” mean? Why is inclusion so critical for boards to get right?

Inclusive governance to me means—first of all—that the members of the board are diverse in terms of gender, race, experience, etc. And that there are healthy dynamics in that boardroom, where the diverse perspectives and experiences are not just present but fully incorporated into oversight discussions at the board and committee levels and in discussions with management. Inclusive governance encourages all board members to bring their full selves to the job and influences from the top how the organization is governed.

Who will be involved in the work of the Center?  

Well, enhancing inclusion at the board level is a task bigger than any one person or organization. We at NACD are grateful to have a community of individuals and organizations joining us in our work at the Center. I am thrilled to serve as chair of the Center, and in that role, I’ll lead a list of distinguished advisors that includes these:

  • The Honorable Luis A. Aguilar, Former Commissioner, US Securities and Exchange Commission
  • Esther Aguilera, President and CEO, the Latino Corporate Directors Association
  • Dr. Rohini Anand, Founder and CEO, Rohini Anand LLC; Former Senior Vice President, Corporate Responsibility and Global Chief Diversity Officer, Sodexo
  • Lori George Billingsley, Global Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, The Coca-Cola Co.
  • Emily Chew, Executive Vice President and Chief Responsible Investment Officer, Calvert Research and Management
  • Jeannie H. Diefenderfer, CEO, the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership
  • Tracy Gee, Chief People Officer, NACD
  • Fabrice Houdart, Managing Director, Global Equality Initiatives, Out Leadership
  • Michael C. Hyter, President and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council
  • General Lester A. Lyles, US Air Force (Ret.); Independent Consultant; Former Vice Chief of Staff, US Air Force
  • Katie Rowen, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Interim CHRO for Vontier Corp.; President and Director of the Vontier Foundation
  • Lisa Spivey, Executive Director, NACD Northern California Chapter
  • Joseph R. Swedish, Past Chair, President, and CEO of Anthem; Director, IBM Corp., CDW, MesoBlast, and Centrexion

The Center will also collaborate with organizations such as Ascend Pinnacle, C200, Equilar, the Executive Leadership Council, the Latino Corporate Directors Association, Out Leadership, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other groups to learn from their unique vantage points, as well as to provide a platform for underrepresented voices.

What are your hopes for what the Center will achieve?

The Center will be successful if we’re able to make board inclusion practices more transparent. The marketplace hasn’t had much of a window into board inclusion practices in the past, so we’ll help pull back the curtains on that. Through the strength of its membership, NACD can highlight strong inclusion practices and point boards toward effective approaches to help get their dynamics right. We’ll also be successful, in my mind, if greater inclusion creates a stronger sense of belonging among all board members, but especially those who are from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds in the boardroom. We will also need to understand how to measure an inclusive environment, and I am excited to see what the research bears in that regard.

How is this different from the DE&I work that NACD has done in the past?

DE&I is not a new focus for NACD. I was proud to co-chair the Blue Ribbon Commission Report on the Diverse Board in 2012 and was involved in updating that report last year in light of the racial equity movement. NACD’s 2017 Blue Ribbon Commission Report also challenged us as directors to think about our role in proactively defining corporate culture, of which DE&I is a major component.

I see the work of the Center not as a departure from those efforts—rather, the Center represents the next evolutionary step for NACD’s DE&I work. There is a strong call from shareholders, regulators, and other stakeholders to diversify, and there’s still a need for us to focus there. However, I see the Center’s commitment to inclusion as an opportunity to positively influence lasting change in the boardroom.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Boards have made slow progress on increasing diversity over the past decade. I’m hopeful that—with efforts like the establishment of the NACD Center for Inclusive Governance—we’ll see progress sooner than we were initially expecting. But I’d like to remind boards that all of us in the corporate governance space have a role to play in championing inclusion. Enhancing inclusion is not just the job of our diverse directors. It’s not just the job of the nominating and governance committee chair or the board leaders, though they all play a key role in this. It’s up to each one of us in the corporate governance community to engage in these conversations about inclusion. It’s up to each one of us to remember that, when we join our virtual board meetings or walk into the boardroom, we are the ones who determine—through our words and actions—how inclusive our boardrooms are. Let’s agree to move forward a step at a time. And the work of the Center will help light the way.

The Hon. Cari M. Dominguez serves as lead director on the board of Triple-S Management Corp., the exclusive BlueCross BlueShield managed health-care company in Puerto Rico. She is also on the board of Circa and serves as a trustee of the Calvert Funds. In addition, she is a former chair of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and also served at the US Department of Labor in roles including assistant secretary of Labor for Employment Standards and Labor Management and director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.


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