How compliance in action can be a tool for an inclusive work culture
VP, Strategic Initiatives, Cornerstone
Generally, compliance requirements include things like sexual harassment training, safety training and ethics training. From a legal standpoint, compliance is about abiding by federal workplace law to prevent lawsuits. But from a human standpoint, compliance training is about so much more than that.
What if we were to look at compliance not as an obligation but as a step toward creating a company culture that includes and invites all? What if we were to set policy and expectation — components of compliance — with the simple goal of fostering a welcoming workplace? It is this sort of reframing that can help us use compliance as a tool for inclusion.
During an April webinar aptly titled “Compliance: The foundation for an inclusive culture,” I spoke with employment attorney Heather Bussing about various components of compliance and company culture, including creating a workplace free of discrimination and harassment, how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the workplace and the integral role of learning in compliance and inclusivity.
By understanding how to reframe compliance, companies can use it to promote an inclusive work environment and see long-term benefits like higher employee retention rates, fewer legality issues, and boosted morale.
Prioritizing compliance means prioritizing people
We often talk about seeing people as our most valuable asset — and compliance is about protecting them. Of course, we hear the word “asset” and think about money, but we’re talking about more than the budgetary dent payroll and benefits make. We want to protect our human assets by encouraging them to be themselves, providing them a healthy work environment and offering them appropriate resources.
Heather notes that the legal standard for compliance is to create a workplace free of discrimination and harassment. This means focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). First, identify the successes and shortcomings of current DEI initiatives; then, be proactive in taking steps to address those shortcomings.
We’re also talking about prevention.
Compliance should be about cultivating a set of preventive measures that protect employees. And here’s the nuance: We want to protect employees not only from adverse events but from having to experience the trauma of reporting such events.
“The way that we have approached equal employment opportunity and discrimination issues is to wait for somebody to get brave enough to risk absolutely everything to bring the complaint forward,” says Heather. “And that's not what we're supposed to be doing, because at that point then, there's a threat, and everything becomes adversarial, and the organization rises up to protect itself, and the victim gets transferred to some horrible job.”
Putting compliance in action
While compliance is often seen as an obligation at best and a nuisance at worst, really, it’s something different entirely. For employers, compliance is a creator of the opportunity to build a more inclusive work culture from the ground up.
A seemingly tedious effort like performing a pay audit, which may expose problems with costly solutions, is an opportunity to make the workplace more equitable.
Asking employees what would make them feel safer at work may involve uncomfortable conversations, but having those conversations helps minimize discrimination and harassment. And as we navigate a global pandemic, reviewing benefits and policies to allow flexibility and prioritize mental health treatment can help employees and increase long-term productivity.
In efforts to take action that can increase belonging and inclusion among employees, employers can explore the many facets of work. Heather suggests looking for patterns in areas like employee engagement and performance changes. Search for insight in data, but go beyond the numbers by talking to employees and employee resource groups.
Armed with information, leaders can take action. This action could look like reviewing benefits and policies to allow flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. It could mean implementing new mental health policies to help workers through difficult times.
Equally important is transparency, especially in a time when many have been furloughed because of the pandemic. Here are a few ways to get started:
- Talk to employees
- Ask them what they need to feel safe
- Do a pay audit
- Look for holes in DEI initiatives
Any of these actions, and all of them combined, can increase feelings of belonging and inclusion among employees.
How learning content boosts compliance
One of my favorite areas to discuss is targeted learning and change management. Targeted learning provides the resources that can lead to a change in culture. It prepares us for the next level so that we can both actively make changes and adapt when changes happen around us.
Targeted learning can also help a company to get in front of compliance and culture issues. It helps us deal with change, either imposed from something like the pandemic or continuously evolving regulations. And when it comes to compliance, learning itself is part of the work. It's not supplementary; it’s necessary.
So much of effectively handling change is about finding ourselves prepared for it. And how can we prepare? As leaders, we can prepare by making learning a part of the job. Between professional and personal responsibilities, workers are spread thin — and in the middle of a pandemic, their own resources are stretched even more.
By making learning a part of work, we equip employees with the information they need to adapt to changes in all areas. And when we prioritize each employee's development on an individual level, we strengthen the organization through an inclusive lens. A workforce that wants to learn is one that will be able to adapt to all circumstances.
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