International Women’s Day is a powerful reminder of all we’ve accomplished when it comes to gender equality, but also of all there is yet to achieve. According to the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, it’ll take roughly 100 years to close the current divide. That is probably 100 years more than what women and society can afford. Today, women’s voices aren’t being heard enough, and that is true in the political arena as well as in the workplace.
The events of the past 12 months make the story of these opposite and complementary trends even more palpable. While a growing number of CEOs have joined forces to promote diversity and inclusion (D&I) in their organizations, companies continue to be caught red-handed, forced to explain discrimination and/or discriminatory beliefs in their work environments. And although the stories of Google and Uber foreshadowed the potential liabilities nested in many companies today, nobody could predict the avalanche of sexual harassment revelations that the Weinstein scandal, #MeToo, and #TimesUp movements unleashed. We thought our biggest problem was the pay gap and the women’s leadership gap until we were forced to confront a much harder truth: Today, gender differences are not simply the source of unfair employee practices, they continue to be the driver of abusive behavior toward women in the workplace.
While words can inspire and uplift, we could use more sobriety in rhetoric, and significantly more focus when it comes to action. And that’s where the opportunity for ethics and compliance practitioners exists today. There are synergies that could be created between D&I and ethics and compliance (E&C) practices that are missing at the moment. According to a recent survey, 87% of companies value D&I, but close to 50% haven’t been able to turn their commitments into adequate practices. D&I is still viewed as a legal obligation by 1 in 5 companies, though the human costs of inequality alone should suffice to convince all of us that making strides in this area is simply the right thing to do and what any ethical company should aspire to achieve in the 21st century.
There are at least five reasons why E&C officers should work more closely with their D&I colleagues, looking for synergies and opportunities for joint action.
1. It remains unclear what we actually mean when we say “Tone at the Top.” Rhetoric is unlikely to produce ethical leadership. Instead of asking senior leaders to deliver lofty speeches about the organization’s commitment to ethics and its values, we could provide them, through D&I, with a full platform to demonstrate the company’s ethical orientation. Senior leaders could choose to be held accountable for promoting D&I and linking it to the company’s strategy. This alone could have a tangible impact on the organization’s leadership pipeline and, at the same time, bring about increased transparency in a number of important D&I metrics.
2. Nonconscious bias is one of the roadblocks we need to deal with if we want to expand the impact of diversity and create the necessary enablers for genuine inclusion. We know it makes a difference to help employees develop awareness of these biases; it is the first step to unlearn blind spots and start seeing people for who they are rather than through the lens of the stereotypes we hold. Importantly, non-conscious bias training can also facilitate a type of mental mastery and moral maturity that employees might need when it comes to ethical challenges. That is, investing in this type of training and other similar forms of training can enhance people’s overall ability to respond to ethical dilemmas.
3. One of the biggest E&C challenges organizations face today has to do with creating a speak-up culture in which all employees feel comfortable sharing their concerns and reporting observed unethical conduct. From the standpoint of minority members in the organization, this challenge is twice as hard. Creating an inclusive culture means creating an environment in which everybody can contribute with their perspectives. Whatever is being done on the D&I side to empower the voice of minority groups should be aligned with what is done on the E&C side to increase employees’ comfort with reporting unethical conduct. Speak-out metrics among minorities could also be used by E&C practitioners as an indicator of the impact of their own efforts.
4. In a recent study about code of conduct best practices, SAI Global found that only 50% of companies use the code to put emphasis on D&I. As the code of conduct has the potential to play a powerful role in shaping the organization’s tone and conduct, this seems to be a missed opportunity. Going forward, code of conduct practices should address the current gap and provide a more definitive perspective on what organizations need to do to promote equality in the workplace.
5. Finally, the long-standing approach of using employee resource groups to further the state of D&I in the workplace has shown that these resources can also expand the organization’s ability to address specific business challenges. Given that today companies face increasing ethical risk, it would make sense to leverage these groups to address both D&I and ethical issues. Employees that converge together as a result of specific affinities might provide unique insight into the organization’s ethical risks in certain areas. E&C leaders should make sure to leverage their insightful perspective.
Caterina Bulgarella will be speaking with ethics and compliance leaders from Novartis, JLL, and Volvo at Ethisphere’s Global Ethics Summit in New York on March 14th about how organizations can make diversity and inclusion part of their culture. Click here to learn more about this event.