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Why the compliance community has a diversity issue

Four in ten compliance professionals have experienced discrimination at work. The sector needs to commit to change.

by Viviane Joynes 3 min

    When 300 members of the compliance sector were surveyed about their experience of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workforce, their responses exposed some developed and sobering statistics. According to the poll, ‘Diversity and Inclusion in the Compliance World’, discrimination remains shockingly widespread in many organisations. More encouragingly, however, the survey also recorded promising signs of progress in advancing D&I.

    Sobering statistics on diversity in compliance

    The results of the poll are presented and discussed in the white paper report ‘Breaking barriers: Advancing diversity and inclusion in the compliance world’, which was developed and published by the International Compliance Association (ICA), the leading professional body for compliance professionals. This report reveals that despite most workplaces implementing measures to improve D&I, there is still considerable room for improvement.

    Key findings include:

    • Almost four in ten compliance professionals surveyed (38%) have experienced discrimination at some point in their career.
    • More than a third feel that not enough is being done to address D&I.
    • Almost half (48%) of respondents agree that regulations do address D&I, but that they also believe more could be done.
    • 38% believe more should be done.
    • More than one in ten (13%) think D&I has not been adequately addressed in their organisation at all.

    On a more positive note, exactly half of the people surveyed believe their company is fully committed to D&I. So why aren’t compliance professionals seeing more progress?

    Why compliance finds diversity a challenge

    Sadly, discriminatory behaviour is still ingrained in many organisations. Given the general level of discrimination across society as a whole, however, this finding comes as no surprise to the experts involved in the report.

    Just as in the wider community, unconscious bias and a general lack of diversity awareness leads to discriminatory behaviour at work. In organisations, this has a negative impact on company cultures and the career prospects of individuals. In many cases, discriminatory practices have been tolerated for so long that employees are fearful of speaking out.

    Compliance professionals who did speak out in the poll also listed barriers to D&I. They include a failure of leadership, a lack of time, a fear of reprisals and a misunderstanding or miscommunication of the real issues and responsibilities involved. However, as one respondent noted, most of the obstacles that are commonly cited are in fact merely excuses.

    Diverse organisations are more successful

    A better understanding of the impact of a diverse workforce might help overcome existing barriers. As the report highlights, a more diverse culture leads to employees who feel valued as individuals, which improves employee morale, engagement and retention.

    Companies that embrace D&I successfully are often rewarded with higher productivity, better overall organisational performance and fewer employment lawsuits. The result of which is generally a more positive perception of the company in the minds of consumers.

    While the above is true across sectors, the report also highlights areas that are unique to compliance. As diversity automatically brings different perspectives on cultures and ethics, worldviews and competences, it can ultimately result in a more holistic way of approaching compliance.

    How to support diversity and inclusion

    Creating a diverse and healthy environment in compliance requires a concerted effort on many levels, as the report highlights.

    Key recommendations:

    • Voice support
      Put D&I front and centre to instil commitment across the organisation.
    • Define responsibilities
      Ensure that HR and compliance work together and hold each other accountable, with compliance focusing on the assessment and management of diversity risks.
    • Organise regular training
      Offer all employees the opportunity for D&I training.
    • Provide extensive exposure
      Mix up teams and tasks so that employees work on areas outside their normal remit and regularly engage with individuals from a range of backgrounds.
    • Improve recruitment and hiring practices
      This involves not only hiring individuals from diverse backgrounds, but also supporting them in the workplace.
    • Encourage open communication
      Create safe spaces so employees can speak out without fear. Point out and draw attention to discriminatory behaviour at an appropriate time, in a non-aggressive manner and in a non-threatening place.
    • Set up procedures and consequences
      Establish the line of tolerance and the related consequences for crossing that line. More importantly, ensure that appropriate action is taken whenever an issue arises.


    For D&I to succeed in compliance, it’s essential to understand diversity and what it involves. Crucially, it will require considerable commitment to succeed, as well as the monitoring of measures and outcomes, both via formal employee engagement surveys and informal conversations. Ultimately, as the report makes clear, D&I is a constant, ongoing process.

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    Viviane Joynes
    Viviane Joynes

    Managing Director – EQS Group | Viviane is Managing Director of EQS Group’s UK Business. She has extensive experience of advising UK and European companies on their corporate governance, compliance and IR practices. Prior to joining EQS her roles included heading up the IR Services at Capita Asset Services (now Link Asset Services) and being Managing Partner of a corporate governance and communications consultancy.