While the world has been grappling with the global pandemic, there has been a parallel and equally global movement elevating diversity and inclusion (D&I) to the summit of political, professional and personal discourse. Some argue that this is still just western populist rhetoric but there does seem to be a real undercurrent this time, and signs that leading businesses are more seriously considering the state and impact of D&I in their context.
There is evidence of not only more business-sponsored conversations and corporate working groups but also tangible changes being made to company policies, recruitment practices and activities that could support greater equality in the professional environment. A workforce that is more representative of where we operate and those we serve – and ensuring that a diverse set of backgrounds, perspectives and skills are represented – is slowly becoming the hallmark of a successful, dynamic firm.
At the International Compliance Association (ICA), we not only support this direction of travel but we believe that it is particularly vital for professionals working in risk and compliance. Diverse backgrounds mean diverse viewpoints, and it is from a broad and considered perspective of inputs that compliance draws its strength.
Setting a benchmark
To truly understand how compliance professionals feel about the state of D&I, and the impact it has on their profession, we commissioned a global survey of 300 ICA members in September 2020. The responses have provided a great benchmark against which to measure and discuss how we could advance D&I initiatives moving forward.
We recognise that this is just a start and by no means an exhaustive reflection of the health of D&I in the compliance world today. D&I differs around the world and the challenges faced by different groups vary significantly. But even with this small start, we can start to see some interesting views and initiatives.
Our survey revealed that 38% of respondents have experienced discrimination in the workplace at some point during their career. It is a statistic that, while sadly not shocking, is nevertheless a disappointment, and a reminder of how far there is to go.
However, progress is being made and a gradual but discernible wider awareness and appreciation of the issues is making itself evident. This new-found awareness can be attributed to increased media reporting of D&I issues and the willingness of people to speak out. The result is a snowballing of debate and dialogue about what D&I means and what it could – and should – look like in the professional sphere.
Charmaine Davis, senior vice-president at Marsh in the US, a global leader in insurance broking and risk management, shares her firm’s approach to implementing D&I measures: “Marsh has implemented measures to educate leaders about unconscious bias, privilege and allyship. Simultaneously, we have increased executive sponsorship and career development of our diverse talent.
“We have developed colleague resource groups to bring awareness to ethnic groups and communicate any issues and challenges to leadership,” Ms Davis continues. “The first group originally set up was the women’s group, and the African heritage group followed. We also now welcome our Asian and Latino colleague groups as well as a family group, all of which work to respond to unique needs. The colleague groups report to a diversity and inclusion leader, who is the manager responsible to ensure each group has the resources it needs to be functional.
“We also conduct our own annual colleague surveys to address opportunities for improvement, along with regular training for managers that includes diversity and inclusion recruitment training,” adds Ms Davis.
The ICA’s survey reached compliance professionals across a number of sectors. Across these companies and industries there were a number of examples, similar to that run by Marsh US, that provide positive and inspiring examples of how companies are approaching D&I.
Of course, challenges remain. One of the most formidable highlighted by survey respondents was the myriad number of regulations across the world. For multinationals, the proliferation of regulation creates problems of how to address D&I across a global workforce.
In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties and Public Authorities) Regulations 2017 aims to ensure workplaces are a fair environment and comply with the law.
As Marsh’s Ms Davis notes: “In the US, federal laws protect race, ethnicity and religion. However, across the world there are legislative variations.”
And although 47% of survey respondents felt compliance regulations adequately address D&I but thought more could be done, some 36% felt regulations fail to address D&I in compliance.
Beyond regulation, other challenges exist. Half of the survey respondents confirmed their employer was committed to D&I, while 37% felt their employer was committed but more needed to be done. Unfortunately, 10% felt their company hadn’t adequately addressed D&I at all.
Many respondents voiced their concerns relating to speaking up, with 15 respondents mentioning the word ‘fear’ or ‘fearful’. The survey also highlighted other barriers such as mindset, avoiding the issue (pretending it doesn’t exist), lack of leadership and prioritisation of workload.
The complexity of these issues should be acknowledged, but there must be discussion on how to make sure the concerns expressed aren’t brushed aside or neglected.
Articulating why D&I is important – and the wider impact that greater diversity and more inclusion can have for the compliance function – helps bring to life the concrete issues D&I is intended to improve.
Jennifer Newton, founder and CEO of the National Association of Black Compliance and Risk Management Professionals in the US, explains: “The absence of diversity and inclusion in decision-making functions can create inevitable blindspots which, if unmitigated, can lead to negative impacts on the entire organisation.”
That view was supported by the remarks of one ICA survey respondent: “As with any other area of the business, compliance will be at its strongest when all voices are included and heard. When compliance departments act as gatekeepers, it's critical that all people involved feel heard and valued.”
Armed with data from this initial survey, how can we as a compliance community take further steps forward? A clear vision seems an important first step. Up-to-date policies and consequences for non-adherence are also vital. And introducing specific projects, updating recruitment practices and encouraging open communication within safe spaces are all necessary.
But we can also do more to demonstrate how diverse teams perform better. There is much empirical research to reflect this and we should be doing more to build up those same results in our organisations. We can look to leading organisations in the insurance sector, such as Marsh US, and learn from their examples.
ICA member Deborah O’Connor, a leadership and management tutor, concludes: “Ultimately, the goal needs to be building organisations representative of the societies in which we live. This also means there is a greater link between those making the decisions and those being impacted by the decisions.”
Ms O’Connor’s remark about society is key. When the compliance function recognises D&I as a vital element of its wider responsibilities to not just the firm but to the society in which we live, the true nature of D&I is revealed for the crucial component that it is.
Tamara Kahn is executive director of the ICA. The ICA offers compliance support and training to professionals throughout their careers, going beyond training to effect deep behavioural change through long-term partnerships. More information about the results of the survey ‘Advancing Diversity and Inclusion in the Compliance World’ can be found in the whitepaper.