A wave of social justice issues—from #MeToo to Black Lives Matter to the more recent Asian Voices movement—have catapulted the need for chief compliance officers to play a more front-and-center role in addressing workplace culture issues.
At Compliance Week’s 16th annual National Conference this week, a panel of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) experts shared valuable tips on how chief ethics and compliance officers can work collaboratively with human resources to address workplace culture issues.
“Increasingly, compliance officers are being asked by their C-suite to become more involved in DE&I issues,” said Janine Yancey, founder and CEO of Emtrain.
A key component of a robust strategy that’s lacking, however, is to get business units handling DE&I matters, such as ethics and compliance or human resources, to work collaboratively.
“Improved workforce culture is a direct result of your compliance effort working hand-in-glove with HR and DE&I,” said Scott Taylor, former general counsel of NortonLifeLock.
“The ability for an organization … to understand how to best use all its talent are additional skill sets that can contribute to the inclusion competency and really create a competitive advantage for companies.”
Executive Coach Amii Barnard-Bahn
Taylor, who serves on several boards, noted board members also want more cooperation among units to achieve a cohesive DE&I strategy. “That is not always the case,” he said. “These things are often talked about separately.”
“Collaboration is all about influence,” said Amii Barnard-Bahn, an executive coach and CW columnist. To influence others, first, “they need to believe that you like them,” she said, and second, “they need to believe that they can influence you. Have credibility in the bank before you go with an ask.”
Compliance, therefore, should build a trusting relationship and be helpful to HR. “Know what their goals are,” Barnard-Bahn said. Spending more time building relationships will make it easier for compliance to align with HR’s goals in their language, she said.
“Compliance could start to support HR in looking at how the competency of D&I relates to the competency of a well-run compliance program,” Barnard-Bahn added. “Having data points that are predictive, rather than reactive, is a really great thing to have in your arsenal as a compliance officer as a way to demonstrate value to the organization and your commitment to building a healthy workplace culture.”
Involving employees in the process also fosters collaboration. “One of my favorite maxims is ‘process determines outcome,’” Barnard-Bahn said. An inclusive process means everyone gets to contribute ideas and brainstorm together.
Particularly for larger companies, leveraging what are commonly called “Employee Resource Groups” (ERGs) is one way to encourage inclusion efforts. ERGs serve as voluntary, employee-led platforms that allow employees to talk candidly and unapologetically about difficult, personal topics such as racial, ethnic, and gender biases.
Mentoring programs can be a part of ERGs as well, Barnard-Bahn said. “ERGs are helpful, but they are often underfunded. They need to have teeth and they need to have some resources to have a meaningful impact for people to feel supported and included.”
New research reveals companies still need to ramp up their inclusion efforts. According to Emtrain’s “2021 Workplace Culture Report on Inclusion,” which gathered sentiment data from more than 83,000 employees at nearly 100 companies, only half of all employees believe their organization has a genuine commitment to inclusion.
Additionally, 43 percent of employees said they can consistently be their authentic selves at work, and only 33 percent said company leaders work hard to create a sense of belonging.
“Diversity and inclusion, generally, has been looked at and approached as a policy and talent strategy,” Yancey said. “While that is true, what’s missing is looking at it as a competency. It’s a skill set to learn.”
To that point, many D&I indicators exist for companies and individual employees to test their strengths and weaknesses against, including the following six highlighted in Emtrain’s report:
- Decision-making: Does your company have an intentional system for making decisions that is fair and consistently used?
- Valuing differences: How good are you at appreciating and acknowledging employees’ different experiences and skills?
- Allyship: Do company leaders use their privilege to make a difference?
- Demographic experience: How often do your employees have direct experiences gained by interacting with people from different demographics?
- Curiosity and empathy: How well can you listen and learn without negatively judging others?
- Authenticity and belonging: Can all your employees bring their whole selves to work?
Tying these indicators back to business strategy results in a more resilient, adaptive company. “The ability for an organization … to understand how to best use all its talent are additional skill sets that can contribute to the inclusion competency and really create a competitive advantage for companies,” Barnard-Bahn said.
A regulatory mandate
A final point is that better compliance and HR relations lead to stronger regulatory disclosures and, thus, stronger compliance processes. Effective as of November 2020, under the Securities and Exchange Commission’s final rule amending Regulation S-K, companies must now disclose human capital resources.
This disclosure includes “any human capital measures or objectives that management focuses on in managing the business, to the extent such disclosures would be material to an understanding of the registrant’s business taken as a whole,” the rule states.
In an era of social justice movements, intangible assets like D&I matters are going to grow more acute—and therefore, more material—to companies of all sizes in all sectors.
However, the fact Regulation S-K is a principles-based rule makes the disclosure of D&I metrics a tricky endeavor because it is up to each company to determine what it deems material. Barnard-Bahn said pay equity might be “a great place to start, because that leads you to then think about your recruitment and promotion processes and whether they are fair and equitable.”
While many companies and boards have thought about D&I efforts for a while, they’ve never had to report on them. Currently, most companies still are in the process of figuring out what D&I metrics to use and disclose and what sort of internal targets or goals to put in place to make improvements.
Yes, Regulation S-K disclosures will improve in quality over time as companies adapt to the process. But leading the way will be those companies with the most diverse and inclusive practices—and those where ethics, compliance, HR, and DE&I work strategically together.