Activating culture and ethics from the boardroom

June 2021

Report cover

The 2021 Ethics, Culture, and Compliance Forum Report

“Everyone needs to be responsible for culture, but somebody in management needs to be in charge. It doesn’t happen on its own.”

Corporate culture is crucial to the long-term sustainability of any company. Boards of directors recognize the urgency of their oversight responsibilities for culture, but acknowledge that culture is difficult to evaluate and shape. Effective oversight may require boards to work with management in new and potentially uncomfortable ways.

In collaboration with LRN, Tapestry Networks set out to assess the current realities of board oversight of corporate culture, ethics, and compliance, grounded in the experiences and perspectives of sitting public company directors. Activating culture and ethics from the boardroom reflects insights from in-depth, confidential interviews with approximately 40 directors who occupy almost 80 public company board seats, including some of the largest companies in the world.

Key findings of the report include: 

  • Boards are responsible for ensuring that executives shape culture and compliance.

  • As oversight practices evolve, boards struggle to find a natural home for culture, ethics, and compliance.

  • Directors fear they are not well-positioned to “read” corporate culture, which they find to be inherently challenging to interpret.

  • Trust is a key enabler of transparency and is indispensable to a board’s ability to oversee culture.