If 2020 goes down in history as the year the world shut down, 2021 should be remembered as the year when we came back to life. But did we do enough in 2021 and are we prepared for 2022?
2021 was, in its own right, a whirlwind. Headlines were filled with stories of ethics failures and whistleblowers at companies like Activision Blizzard, Theranos, McDonald’s, and Meta (Facebook), and in sports organizations like the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League. There has been little rest for the weary, including ethics and compliance (E&C) professionals, but also for the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), which has received over 12,000 whistleblower tips to date—an approximate 76 percent increase over FY 2020 and a 300 percent increase since 2012. Ongoing pandemic worries, a continuous parade of leaders falling from grace, and natural and man-made disasters too many to count have kept all of us up at night this year.
But 2021 has also given us reason to celebrate. Progress, albeit slow, has been made by environmental and social movements; ESG has moved to center stage for all stakeholders; Juneteenth National Independence was designated a U.S. federal holiday; misogyny was defined as a hate crime by England and Wales; and mental health is now in its rightful place at the top of the headlines. Our economies have kept churning, due in part to virtual networking capabilities and continued remote working that presented new possibilities for where and how people of all abilities can live and work (though it also perpetuated the “always-on culture” – which pushes boundaries and challenges mental health).
Writing and Reading About Compliance in 2021
For me, 2021 was a year of growth. Shortly after the new year, I opened my eyes, rolled up my sleeves, started my own business, and got to work. I had opportunities to help draft mission statements and values, deliver code of conduct and workplace respect training, collaborate on ESG-related projects, and conduct workplace investigations. I discovered outlets for writing, which appeared in such esteemed publications as Radical Compliance, Corporate Compliance Insights, and The Compliance & Ethics Blog. Throughout 2021, I – like so many others – benefited from content made freely available by E&C thought leaders through webinars, podcasts, panel discussions, coaching and mentoring sessions, and white papers. I read numerous well-written and thought provoking books written by E&C professionals, including Mary Shirley and Lisa Fine’s multiple award-winning Sending the Elevator Back Down, Rob Chestnut’s Intentional Integrity, Kristy Grant-Hart, Kirsten Liston and Joseph Murphy’s The Compliance Entrepreneur’s Handbook, Lisa Beth Lentini Walker and Stef Tschida’s Raise your Game, Not your Voice, and on a somewhat different topic, Gwen Romack’s The Finn Chronicles. Last, but not least, I discovered the power of community outside of the E&C world through the co-working and co-learning community, The Co-Co.
Through all of these connections, E&C or otherwise, I’ve met brilliant, confident thought leaders, energetic speakers, talented writers, generous souls, vulnerable professionals who wear their hearts of their sleeves, and ceiling breakers. I’ve connected with individual contributors, large consulting practices, and in-house professionals, with collaborators and with competitors. I’ve networked with individuals with imperfect pasts and with big dreams for the future.
Despite the continued pandemic challenges, it’s also been a particularly busy year for me personally. I helped move my 82-year-old mother out of her home of 40 years, lost a father-in-law and gained a future daughter-in-law (on the same day), welcomed two grand-puppies into our home and hearts, and discovered – purely by chance – my family’s happy place.
I’ve learned some things this year about the power of community. Having the support of people who see you for who you are and recognize your potential, who know where you’ve been and get where you’re headed, who hold you accountable to your dreams – that can get you through the best of times and the worst of times. As a community of E&C professionals, we’ve proven this to one another time and time again, whether in support of a newly published book, a sudden layoff, an emotionally difficult situation, a challenging client, or an experience of loss.
This community has given me the space to find my voice and share my view of the world in a way I’ve not done before. I’ve seen others find their voices as well through speaking engagements, book writing, mentoring, and coaching, or all of the above. In Drive My Car, the recently released Japanese drama film, the most compelling character, in my view, was the young mute woman who used sign language so beautifully and elegantly that her “voice” was louder and at times, more powerful, than the speaking characters. From much of the discussion within our community this past year, we learned that if there is hope for companies, communities, and their leaders to be better, we need to listen to all voices, to help promote and protect the right to speak up, and to provide the environment in which it is safe to do so.
The E&C professionals with whom I’ve connected this past year are unbelievably “all in” with a strong desire to prevent the wrong, to right the ship, to do good, to be good and to give back. To be “all in” takes tremendous energy reserves and sometimes personal sacrifice, but it also requires balance and self-preservation. Maintaining that balance – between the professional and the personal, the perfect and the flawed, the giver and the taker, the teacher and the student, the serious and the silly – is what allows us to keep replenishing those reserves.
2022 is certain to be full of challenges we already know, as well as many more new and unexpected ones. I look forward to continuing to draw from and to contribute to this community that is so full of good will, strong connection, and genuine support. There’s so much potential in our community to do good, which gives me hope and strength to confront and tackle the challenges of 2022 and beyond.