After the global financial crisis of 2008, Roger Steare, a.k.a. “The Corporate Philosopher,” posited that one of the primary contributing factors to the crisis was the makeup of corporate boardrooms. His observation was they were “male, pale, and stale.” So what has changed? Have we witnessed the rise of the female; the elevation of the black man/woman; and what about youth?
There is no escaping the facts. Largely, we continue to be ruled by older, white, alpha males who dominate politics, boardrooms, and even courtrooms. As a consequence, in many countries, the equality gaps have widened in all areas of society, and we are now facing a crisis. Perversely, the crisis is predominantly being managed by the same gray-haired old white men. The absence of females, men/women of color, and young people is failing many of us. It is worth noting two of the countries that have had high levels of success in confronting the coronavirus pandemic, Germany and New Zealand, are led by women.
At a base level, within our families we consider and care for young, old, black, white, tall, short, fat, and slim. We do not discriminate against our own and largely live by a consensus. This collective collaboration of compromise breaks down outside of the family environment. This is why, in general, families function better than businesses and public institutions.
Businesses, governments, and public institutions are routinely taken over by dominant males, some of whom are bullies. Women can be more likely to confront and challenge bullies than men, hence the absence of women encourages the bullies. What we all witnessed in Minnesota with the killing of George Floyd in police custody was a bully, and no one had the courage or appeared to have been encouraged to stand up to him. All four officers who have been charged in connection with the murder of Floyd are male. One of the officers stood, watched, and did nothing to stop his colleagues and save Floyd. The consequences have been tragic, but with a better culture and zero tolerance of bullying, this would likely never have happened.
Many business leaders have publicly expressed their outrage while asserting their stance against racism, but racism to many is a form of bullying. It represents a group in society picking upon others who they perceive to be weaker. Thus, these business leaders and my fellow compliance professionals need to also look at this from the perspective of bullying and intimidation. Bullies are bad for your business—they suppress thinking, ideas, innovation, and the reporting of wrongdoing.
Anti-bullying should be at the top of your compliance agenda and should be supported by increased gender balance, because women in many cases are less tolerant of bullies.
In 2012, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, invited me to present evidence to the U.K. Parliament, specifically the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. Within my submission I stated some of the bankers and traders I had encountered behaved like gang members who intimated, threatened, and bullied others to ensure they got what they wanted and did what they wanted. Subsequently, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) published excerpts of chat room texts from traders and brokers who had criminally fixed foreign exchange (FX) trading rates. One such line from these exchanges read, “Mess this up, and sleep with one eye open at night.” The trader had just been invited to join a group that called itself “The Cartel.”
The banks involved in the FX fixing later paid huge fines, and last week a judge in New York confirmed civil litigation against 15 banks engaged in fixing FX trades would proceed to trial. The fact is, we all pay very heavy prices when we do not stand up to bullies.
Once again, it was not a coincidence that all of the FX traders involved in the cases brought by the FCA were male. Not for one moment am I proposing the murder of Floyd is similar to fixing trades and rates. The collective point is a failure to stop both of these crimes. Thus, if we are to see positive actions as well as words arise out of this tragedy, it has to be a review of how we treat each other in the workplace; what conduct we tolerate; and whether the gender, racial, and youth balance is right in our business.
I assert it is the role of the compliance professional to protect businesses, and this includes protecting colleagues from bullies and shareholders from the consequences of the actions of bullies. So I urge you to look at the workplace as a home, not an office; colleagues as family members; and seek a consensus that works for and protects everyone.