Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 months, you know about the recent spate of high-profile sexual harassment allegations and the #MeToo movement. According to NAVEX Global’s 2018 Ethics & Compliance Training Benchmark Report, these movements appeared to have motivated a re-evaluation of ethics and compliance programs – specifically regarding training.
The report found that 73 percent of respondents are now training their board members. That’s a big jump from 44 percent in 2017 and 58 percent in 2016. This could indicate that organizations are seeing increasing value in keeping board members well trained on pressing issues. In addition to workplace harassment, these training topics include cyber security, diversity and discrimination, conflicts of interest and many more.
Board members should be trained like the senior leaders that they are
While organizations should be lauded for increasingly training their boards, it’s clear that they need continue increasing the focus on certain topics. Forty-four percent of respondents said their organizations still don’t train board members on workplace harassment – and 21 percent said they only do it once. That’s disappointing, particularly given recent events.
It is possible that boards are getting some of the relevant information from other training topics. Organizations do much better when it comes to training boards on codes of conduct, which are often overarching. Still, organizations should lean toward how they train senior leaders and managers; 47 percent of senior leaders and managers receive workplace harassment once a year, according to our survey.
Even those numbers are low, but trending in the right direction. In fact, directors are less likely to receive training on any topic when compared to senior leaders and non-managers, according to the findings.
Why this matters
Regulatory agencies expect organizations to not only inform their boards about core business issues but to include them in the approach to managing these issues. The possibility of reputational damage should be another motivator. But if you put aside those pressures and even the current polarized political climate, there is another reason why training boards on the right topics is so important.
Board training is tied directly to something we in compliance talk about a lot: tone at the top. Explained well by Fred Kiel, chair of KRW International’s board, tone at the top “sets the cultural norms and expectations for the entire organization. When tone from the top reflects a strong and ethical culture, employees who are personally aligned with those norms and expectations tend to be more satisfied in their jobs. They stay in the organization and produce. Those who are not personally aligned often self-select and leave.
“Organizations are social entities and people tend to stay in social settings that align with their values. The better the tone from the top, the better the cultural barometer employees have to align themselves with.”
Modern training needs to resonate with the modern workforce
Tone from the top needs to permeate the workforce through action from the top. The modern workforce, fueled by millennials and post-millennials, is demanding that boards play a pivotal role in eliminating sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
As my colleague Ron Carucci wrote recently, we’re reaching a generational inflection point when it comes to idealism and activism. This means that along with fiduciary and regulatory responsibilities, the reputational damage from high-profile scandals that we’re seeing today could pale in comparison to the results of similar scandals in a decade or two.
We should applaud organizations for their improvements in board training. But they need to keep working, to channel their increased focus on board awareness and to make sure that their directors are getting the right training to truly lead their organizations.
By Ingrid Fredeen
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