Leadership / Management | Organizational Development

New NABA CEO Jina Etienne’s goal? Nothing short of transformation

Change is impacting — and in many cases, transforming — every organization on the planet.

Maybe none as much as the National Association of Black Accountants.

Here’s how the association’s new president and CEO, Jina Etienne, describes the NABA of tomorrow:

“I think it has a membership that is not all black. I think we have a leadership that is not all black. I think we have chapters in all major universities, in community colleges, in every city. And I think we have a network that is constantly measuring, to very small degrees, changes in the conversation to provide the feedback so we can be more responsive as an organization.”

When your vision for the future, as head of the National Association of Black Accountants, includes members who aren’t black accountants? Now that’s change, and vision, and leadership. Sometimes, the best answers to our challenges come from outside our inner circle.

That’s the type of vision Etienne is bringing to her new role as NABA’s CEO.

A Maryland resident and MACPA member, Etienne was named NABA’s president and CEO in September 2015. As a former director with the AICPA’s Tax Section, she brings an outsider’s untainted vision, enthusiasm and optimism to the position — qualities that she believes will serve her well in her new role.

“Being an insider can help in some respects because you know the system and the politics, but being an outsider can help because you don’t know the system and you’re not limited by the politics,” she said. “If I’m careful in my approach, I can express a balance of curiosity and concern for the things that I think might be broken versus the things that I see that are perfect and should continue to exist, but perhaps in a more modern fashion.”

She’ll need to put all of those skills to work to realize an admittedly lofty goal: Etienne said NABA has the potential to quadruple its membership.

“That means adopting some change, doing things a little differently and reaching into some audiences we’ve never reached into before,” she said. “NABA historically engages with historically black colleges and universities. That’s not where I went to school, and there are many others like me out there. That requires a different strategy and possibly a different approach, which might even require a different structure. Being open to exploring all of that is, I think, the biggest challenge we face.”

The opportunities embedded in that exploration are numerous — and important. Partnering with a wider, non-traditional audience will give the association the opportunity to shine a brighter spotlight on the black experience. It will also help companies of all sizes realize that diversity, while noble, isn’t the same thing as inclusion — and that inclusion is the real goal.

“It’s one thing to let me sit at the table, but if I’m not allowed to speak, I’m going to feel reserved in engaging,” she said. “Really understanding inclusion is the next step. I think our organization has the ability to get ahead of that, simply by talking more openly and transparently about our experiences.

“Let’s get away from platitudes,” she added. “Let’s talk openly and honestly and try to provide some leadership about what tomorrow looks like, because 2044, I believe, is when the minority will become the majority in this country. When that happens, it will be the beginning of a fundamental shift in the way all races engage in this country. I would love to position us to be successful in leading that conversation so that it’s natural and happens without hiccups or road bumps.”

Etienne and I spoke at length about a number of other things during a break at the AICPA’s fall Governing Council meeting in Hawaii. Listen to our conversation in its entirety here:


Bill Sheridan