Having Pride in a Diverse & Inclusive Compliance Program

By Adam R. Nester JD, MS, CHC

June is Pride Month for the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual) community. While issues of diversity and inclusion are often the provenance of Human Resources or dedicated D & I offices, there is a role for compliance officers in creating an ethical culture – and an inclusive space for all – when it comes to important gender and sexuality concerns.

One of the hallmarks of an effective compliance program is that all people feel comfortable using institutional mechanisms to report their concerns. The accuracy of internal reporting can be an issue when one considers that there are few workplace protections for LGBTQIA workers who may fear retaliation if they come forward, or may feel targeted because of how they self-identify.

There are three cases before the United States Supreme Court this term that will potentially clarify how Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to sexual orientation and transgender individuals in the workplace: Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, No. 17-1623, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, No. 17-1618, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. EEOC, et al., No. 18-107.

Absent a decision by the nation’s highest court, compliance officers need to develop an understanding of intersectionality to better assess how employees experience concerns. Intersectionality is best understood as the “interconnected nature of social categorizations” – including race, class, gender, religiosity, and sexuality – as they come together to form a complex identity in an individual.

Compliance officers should ensure that corporate policies and standards recognize LGBTQIA individuals and allow for intersectional experiences. Compliance professionals need to engage actively to understand how individuals express different identities – particularly LGBTQIA identities – when conducting investigations, and evaluate any potential corrective action plans as they are developed.

Professionals should strive to examine where there may be implicit biases in internal standards and practices (and in the compliance program itself) that result in the unequal treatment of LGBTQIA individuals, and they should actively take steps to preserve both the privacy and dignity of such individuals.

This effort requires empathy and a recognition that our obligation as compliance professionals does not just stop at the water’s edge of what’s “legal”. It is equally important that compliance officers understand and work closely with partners in human resources, legal, and diversity & inclusion offices to understand how to contribute to an ethical culture that values and reflects the contributions of all people so that individuals feel comfortable to come forward with their concerns.

Identifying Compliance as an additional resource and safe space for the LGBTQIA community to air potential concerns is an important step and best practice towards making sure that we all ‘do the right thing’ when it comes to the organizations we serve.

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