Corporate compliance officers are getting more involved in diversity and inclusion efforts, using their expertise in helping employees adhere to laws and company policies to push for change.
Many companies made commitments to promote racial equality last year following the murder of George Floyd while in police custody, including by hiring and promoting Black employees and fostering a workplace culture where all employees feel welcome.
Compliance officers can help lead the change, said Kellye Gordon, vice president of ethics and compliance and legal operations at apparel and footwear company VF Corp. Their skills in engaging with company leadership, building teams from the ground up, and setting up training and awareness programs can be put to use in the drive to increase diversity and inclusion, Ms. Gordon said.
“It’s so important as a legal team and a compliance team to get involved. People listen to us; we have a voice to be heard on this topic,” said Ms. Gordon, an executive sponsor of VF’s diversity and inclusion efforts in the legal department. “And moving to this world in ethics and compliance, because we care about justice and equality, it’s a pillar of the work we do.”
A risk and compliance officer’s specialty in helping mitigate financial and regulatory risks can be applied to helping alleviate governance risks that may arise from a lack of diversity, said Moni Robinson, principal of compliance for fintech firm Elevate Credit in Dallas.
Last August, she helped launch the National Association of Black Compliance & Risk Management Professionals Inc. The nonprofit, which now has about 200 individual and 10 corporate members, hopes to provide support, training and opportunities for Black professionals in the field, according to Ms. Robinson, the group’s chief operating officer.
Jennifer Newton, the organization’s founder and chief executive, said risk and compliance professionals should endeavor to create an environment that makes it easier to comply with regulations and company principles. A diverse and inclusive workplace can help with that. “Risk management requires a range of people thinking about different issues; I think it really helps to have different perspectives,” said Ms. Newton.
Many compliance teams are looking to hire more people with diverse backgrounds who could provide innovative solutions to compliance issues. And having a diverse compliance team can demonstrate an appreciation for the diversity of a company’s customer base. “It also shows that you’re more receptive to the marketplace when you value your own employee’s voice,” Ms. Robinson said.
Compliance is a natural fit to assist in diversity hiring and inclusion initiatives, in large part because it often already plays a role in the onboarding process of employees and investigation of whistleblowing complaints, said Eric Young, a former compliance chief at the Americas unit of French bank BNP Paribas SA .
“With legal and regulatory practices around what can be asked or not asked [during the hiring process], it’s even more litigious, and therefore compliance can—and should—play an even more visible role in the front end of obtaining employees,” said Mr. Young, who now runs a compliance advisory firm and is an adjunct compliance professor at the Fordham University School of Law.
Efforts to have a more diverse workforce could benefit overall compliance, Mr. Young added. The more diverse a workforce, the more comfortable employees might feel about calling out potential wrongdoing. “It creates more of a safe environment to speak up,” Mr. Young said. “If one feels in the minority, they’re more likely to feel suppressed, or at least not speak up.”
For compliance leaders like Henry Thoman, the general counsel and chief compliance officer for Black-owned fintech company Mobility Capital Finance Inc., diversity also makes business sense. Employees with different life experiences can provide understanding into a wider range of customers, he said.
“We do have the opportunity to walk the walk in hiring, and we’re hiring people who are going to understand the type of consumers we’re working to support,” he said.
—Jack Hagel contributed to this article.
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