What compliance can do to advance diversity and inclusion efforts

Written by Jaclyn Jaeger, Compliance Week on Monday October 19, 2020

Workplace culture as it pertains to diversity and inclusion is at an inflection point, with chief ethics and compliance officers in a crucial position to drive real and meaningful change in their s.

In fact, 62 percent of respondents to Compliance Week’s second annual “Inside the Mind of the CCO” survey said their company’s diversity and inclusion efforts have become more front and centre in 2020, a year marked by widespread protests and calls for racial equality around the world. Respondents described their company’s diversity and inclusion efforts as vocal support (58 percent), training (50 percent), increased investment (32 percent), and/or policy changes (26 percent).

Sixty percent also maintained their company is “living out the values” of diversity and inclusion, while 40 percent felt the opposite—a signal that companies have room to improve.

This is where chief ethics and compliance officers can play a leading role in reshaping and nurturing culture. “The compliance function serves an important role in the fight for organisational justice, which includes a culture where diversity, equity, and inclusion are genuinely embraced at all levels within an organisation,” says Tiffany Archer, regional ethics and compliance leader for the Americas and Europe for Panasonic Avionics.

For initiatives to be effective, diversity and inclusion must be more than a check-the-box exercise that often results from “passive participation, rather than a meaningful value-added initiative that informs and motivates employees and builds company culture,” Archer says. “We need the organisation to walk the walk.” And, she asks: “Who better to support these efforts than compliance?”

“Those within the compliance function are ambassadors, who should actively model the behaviours aligned with the organisation’s culture,” Archer says. “They are charged with efforts to hold employees accountable if they fail to uphold the underlying pillars of the organisation’s values. With that as a backdrop, compliance officers have a unique opportunity to move the needle in this space.”

For chief ethics and compliance officers looking to proactively transform workplace culture, Archer recommends looking to anthropologist Edward T. Hall’s “Cultural Iceberg Model” as a starting point. Hall’s model theorizes how the most significant portion of culture, like an iceberg, hides beneath the surface—and that is where the most exploration is needed to truly understand employees’ values, underlying biases, and more.

“It’s this meaningful data that will allow the organisation to move the needle towards change,” Archer says. “Bear in mind that there will be many challenging conversations, but we need to spend the time digging into what lies below the iceberg’s surface to effectively make the changes we want to see.”


Policies and procedures 

As a starting point, policies and procedures might have to be revisited and revised to properly address diversity and inclusion. “A diversity and inclusion analysis should be included in all aspects of the policy and procedure development process—that is, in the creation, implementation, and in assessing a policy’s potential impact on the workforce and the organisation’s customer base,” says Jennifer Newton, founder of the National Association of Black Compliance & Risk Management Professionals. “At the outset, you should be asking, ‘Have we considered diverse perspectives in the creation and implementation of this policy? Who is in the room (for the policy discussion)? Who will the new policy/procedure impact? Could it have a disproportionate impact on a protected group?’”

Be aware, however, that policies and procedures only go so far. “The policies are only as good as the impact they have and how they are played out in real life,” says Sherry Williams, former deputy general counsel and global chief ethics and compliance officer at Jabil, a Fortune 500 company specializing in manufacturing solutions.

Diversity and inclusion efforts must go beyond a paper trail and mere lip service and optics. To assess whether your organisation takes a check-the-box mentality, Newton advises looking for the following red flags:

  • An overall lack of diversity in the workplace or among executive management;
  • Diverse leaders/officers who are, or appear to be, disengaged from the decision-making process;
  • A lack of resources devoted to diversity initiatives;
  • Diversity initiatives that focus only on recruitment;
  • Widespread presence of tokenism (e.g., one person representing a whole race, minority group, gender, etc.); and
  • High turnover, especially of a particular minority group, for example.


D&I training

Training of current employees or the onboarding of new employees are other areas of opportunity where the company can embed the importance of diversity and inclusion. “Special modules can be created for management that address special risk areas such as implicit bias, microaggressions, and stereotyping,” Newton says.

Not all employee reports or concerns brought to the attention of the compliance function may rise to a violation of law; they may just be culturally problematic. That calls for training of a different type, focused on respect in the workplace, Williams says. “Those don’t tend to be the kinds of trainings in which most corporations are engaging,” she says.

Thus, in addition to management receiving diversity and inclusion training, internal compliance teams should also be having tough conversations about potential biases, stereotypes, and/or prejudices. It’s about “bringing a bit more objectivity to our work,” Williams says, “especially as it relates to investigative work.”

The last thing you’d want is for compliance personnel conducting an internal investigation to approach it with a predetermined frame of mind, expecting certain answers or a certain outcome, due to unconscious bias or stereotypes. “When making recommendations concerning disciplinary actions, it’s important that those recommendations and the compliance officer’s work be seen as objective and valuable and is fair,” Williams adds.

“What I have learned is that the key to dealing with adversity is to confront it directly and deal with the issues quickly,” Archer says. She says that includes “acknowledging the problem exists; communicating effectively and immediately to inform the appropriate persons of the issue; being direct in addressing the actual problem as quickly as possible; and, certainly, correcting the problem.”

Organisational partners

To effectuate real and meaningful change, however, compliance must partner with various parts of the business. “Executive buy-in is critical,” Archer says. “Without buy-in, little can be done to affect change. If you are worth your salt as a leader, you will challenge the status quo or be an agent for change.”

Beyond executive buy-in, an often underappreciated, but significantly valuable, partner to compliance is human resources. “We see within our shared profession a lot of rifts between HR and compliance,” says Cindy Raz, senior vice president of HR and organisational development for NAVEX Global. “Rather than capitalizing on the respective knowledge that these professions and the passion they share for creating a great workplace, there can be a bit of turf division.”

One area where HR and compliance professionals can work together is in parsing organisational data and analyzing what it says about the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts and how that data can serve as a guide to improve those efforts.

“For example, why is a particular minority group leaving the organisation at a higher rate than other groups? Are we having a more difficult time building a more diverse group in a particular geography? Why is that, and what do we need to do about it?” Raz says.

Diversity and inclusion heads are another valuable partner for the ethics and compliance team. As a former compliance officer, Williams says she would collaborate with D&I leaders by seeking their input on training. Questions to consider, for example: “Do you think the training is right based upon the company’s strategy around D&I? Do you have suggestions about how we can alter the training or offer different training to get to some of those issues?”

“What’s required is a deep dive into specific company culture, using AI and data analytics, for the deepest insights and most meaningful reporting on areas of opportunity for change,” Archer says. “Remember, diversity is what we know through quantitative data. Inclusivity is what we do by ensuring a sense of belonging. Now more than ever is the time to close the knowing-doing gap and foster the ability to equally amplify voices of each and every person in the workplace.”


This article has been republished with permission from Compliance Week, a US-based information service on corporate governance, risk, and compliance. Compliance Week is a sister company to the International Compliance Association. Both organisations are under the umbrella of Wilmington plc. To read more visit


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