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P&G: Anti-Corruption Award Winner on Storytelling, Culture, and Inclusion

Procter & Gamble was a recipient of last year’s Corporate Leadership Award from the Coalition for Integrity (C4I), a partner of Ethisphere’s. Our friends at C4I fight public and private corruption, and these awards seek to recognize and lift up the best work being done in the public and private sectors. Ethisphere’s Leslie Benton got a chance to interview P&G’s Chief Legal Officer Deborah Majoras about the honor, the company’s “Do the Right Thing Culture,” fostering transparency, and P&G’s important work on equity issues.

Deborah Majoras, P&G's Chief Legal Officer, wears a plum blouse and looks to camera.
Deborah Majoras, Chief Legal Officer, P&G

Leslie Benton: I’m a huge believer in these awards for a whole variety of reasons, and we were very happy to have the opportunity to amplify the work that the Coalition does. Can you tell us a little bit more about your role as the CLO at P&G, and your approach to maintaining the “Do the Right Thing Culture?”

Debbie Majoras: As I think about my approach to maintaining this culture, we start with the assumption that people actually do want to do the right thing, because most people do. But the key is to help them. We can say all we want that our culture is to do the right thing, but what does that mean? What does it mean in any given business situation that someone finds themselves in? What it means today might not be what it meant last year or the year before, because standards change and our business problems change.

The key is to think about this, I think, as a team sport. My own view is that we need to approach the subject with a great deal of humility—we are not infallible. Every one of us is capable of going down the slippery slope. We help each other not go down that slope.

How do we do it? We talk about it. One of the things that attracted me to P&G when I was working in the government was the fact that people were so open when I was talking to them in the company about what we call our PVPs—purpose, values, and principles. And you don’t see that all the time. That is an aspect of the culture, and people talk about it openly.

One of the reasons it’s so important to talk about it is because if people assume that everybody else knows what it means to “do the right thing” in a given situation, they won’t ask. That is not a good place to be culturally, so I really try to approach this job modeling that I don’t know the right thing to do every single minute. I am constantly talking to my colleagues, not only in our function, but in HR, in finance, in business, asking, “Let’s talk this through. Why does this make sense? Why does this not?” That is a big part of the approach.

The other thing I would say about it is, in the end, all about stakeholder trust, the most important stakeholder being consumers for us. We think about what we do as building trust in Procter and Gamble, as opposed to thinking about legal ethics and compliance as a list of policies and rules that everyone has to follow. We can’t write down everything that we would like people to do, but if we think about it more from a trust standpoint, and how we work together as partners to build that trust—that is, I think, a much more positive way for us to partner with our colleagues.

Leslie Benton, Vice President, Ethisphere

LB: I liked the way you highlighted the fact that some people might just think everybody else is more ethical when they have a question. Is there a key to how you create an atmosphere where people feel able to ask questions? What helps with that transparency?

DM: There are a couple of keys to promoting that openness and transparency. One is leadership—when leaders of an organization, or even managers on a one-to-one basis, will talk openly about dilemmas that they’ve had. And in one-to-one or even group setting talking about a mistake that one has made, with the frame, “Here’s why I made the decision I did and here’s why it turned out to be the wrong one. Here’s what I’ve learned from it.” That kind of dialogue gives all of your people permission to have those kinds of conversations. That role modeling from leadership is really important.

The second thing is remembering that in a sense we’re all like Pavlov’s dog. We know what it means to get rewarded in our lives, whether we like to say so or not. And if people raise things and the reaction is in any way negative, or they don’t hear back, they don’t know whether any action has been taken—there’s no reward for speaking up, and people might stop doing it. It is also very, very important that there’s an internal justice that people see and feel for themselves.

LB: We’re talking today because you recently were awarded the Coalition for Integrity’s Corporate Leadership Award. What does that recognition mean to your team and to the company as a whole?

DM: Well, it means a great deal. It’s a terrific honor. One of the things about having strong ethics and integrity is that you really have to be careful not to talk about it too much. Maybe it’s just flat-out bad karma to do so, and it certainly doesn’t fit with what I said about ethics and compliance requiring a heavy dose of humility.

But on the other hand, by not talking about it, we don’t want to give the impression that this is not one of the most important things for organizations. This is the foundation for everything else we do, especially today when companies are doing so much more in the citizenship and ESG space. Without this ethics and integrity, I think the rest of that is a lot emptier.

As a company, we really do work very hard at this. I have these people on the front lines who I view as heroes because they are out there pushing our point of view and making sure that we are going to conduct ourselves up to the standards that we have.

The second thing is, if you think about a legal team, when we do our jobs right we’re generally preventing bad things from happening. It’s hard to prove a negative, so you don’t always have recognition, which is fine, but nonetheless really, really rewarding for people to get.

And then finally, it is important that we, as a corporate citizen in industry don’t lose sight of the importance of this integrity. These kinds of awards are able to remind the rest of the world that this is important to us, because there’s plenty of news about companies and organizations in which people did go down that slippery slope. And those are unfortunate, and we can all learn from them and hope that we don’t end up there. But awards like this and organizations like the Coalition keep anti-corruption and other issues front and center.

LB: Well, I totally understand the humility point, but at Ethisphere, one of the main things that we do is really try to highlight what companies are doing well for all the reasons that you mentioned. What’re you most proud of at the company and about your culture?

DM: I think what makes me most proud about our culture and what our team has been able to do is the way we integrate strong ethics and compliance into our business strategies. We’ve certainly learned that if you try to separate the two, that doesn’t work. It certainly is not sustainable in the long term, and at P&G we’re in it for the long term.

What does work is building compliance into the way you think about your business, both from a strategy standpoint and from an execution standpoint, and that requires our people to really know and understand our business and to gain the trust of their business partners. We work very, very hard at this partnership. And often what we end up finding, is that as long as our business partners tell us, “Here’s what I’m trying to accomplish,” if we’re in soon enough, we can almost always find a way for them to get it done.

LB: Your experience at the FTC is very interesting. What lessons from that public service you brought to P&G when you went back into the private sector?

DM: The first lesson that I brought is the privilege of service. I actually learned what a beautiful thing it is. I loved my time in public service. I often say that we are in service to our business and to consumers. I love that, and I think there’s just so much satisfaction in it. And when you think about your role that way you do it differently, and you can have humility, not always needing to be out there in front. It also helps you to keep your eye on the ball. What is important? What are we trying to accomplish?

The second lesson would be in the way in companies and organizations get themselves into trouble—it starts with small steps. It really is that slippery slope. When you’re in law enforcement and you can look back and try to reconstruct what happened, sometimes you can see those small steps that took someone down that path.

Things that seem small matter, not only in the negative sense but also in a positive sense, and so we should take those positive steps. For example, the compliance research shows us that when people are reminded of their oath, of their codes, they are less likely to slip, so we’ve taken our values and principles and put them in every conference room. And it seems like a small thing, it’s almost part of the wallpaper perhaps, but in people’s consciousness, it’s there. Finding those small steps that we can take to actually help people do the right thing, and then watching for those small steps down the slippery slope to help pull back, that’s something that I learned and feel strongly about.

LB: We know that at P&G you have an incredible record promoting equity and diversity, and this year there’s a real urgency to that. Could you talk about developments at P&G in that regard?

DM: There isn’t any question that 2020 was a wake-up call for all of us on what remains to be done, which is a lot. First of all, when we talk about diversity and inclusion, it has to start inside P&G. We’ve had efforts for many years to really make sure that we’re diversifying our workforce, and we’ve started to publish that data so that people can see it. We know we’ll be held accountable for the things we say, as we should be. We’ve made strong progress on that. But as I’m constantly reminding folks, diversity is incredibly important, but diversity without inclusion is just counting heads.

We have to make sure that we’re working on the inclusion piece. Nowhere was that more apparent to me than during this pandemic when we aren’t together physically. You had to recognize, right in our faces, our different experiences—and what all that means for what we have left to bring to work. We really had to think about that from an inclusion standpoint, and I think we learned lessons that we’ll be able to take with us. We’re setting goals for ourselves and holding ourselves accountable.

Externally, what we believe is really important for all companies, as we all look at our priorities and decide what we’re doing—because we can’t all do everything—the question is, where do we have strengths? For P&G, we have enormous strength in our advertising and marketing voice. We had already been using that in the gender, LGBTQ+, and racial equality spaces. But we doubled down on it this year. And I think you’ll continue to see that we have very strong feelings about racial and social justice, and believe that’s a place where we can have a strong voice.

We also recognize what we cannot do. Like lots of other people, we have strong personal feelings about reform in the civil and criminal justice system, about education reform and the like, but we’re not necessarily the experts in those areas. So we’re also earmarking more money, more resources, and more human capital toward a lot of different organizations that work toward, for example, racial justice in our criminal justice system.

We work with a company in Cincinnati that is a “second chance company,” that hires a lot of formerly-incarcerated individuals. And they buy small brands from P&G and then they learn how to work these brands and sell them. We’re stepping up some of our efforts with them. If you think about it, a legal team has a very special role to play in the area of justice. We’ve stepped up our efforts to work with minority-owned businesses who need legal counsel. We’re starting a program where we will work in clinics for second-chance individuals who’ve formerly been incarcerated and need some help getting started.

My view on this is that it really ought to be twofold. The company has these efforts that we can put our force and scale behind. But we have fabulous, talented people, and we can all take our talents into our communities and make our communities better. Sometimes these problems seem so enormous that I don’t even know where to begin. And when that happens, I tell myself, “Think locally. What can I do right here in front of me?” Because if everybody thinks that way, if will all link together, we will eventually make some progress in these issues.

LB: Thank you.

About the Expert:

Deborah Majoras leads P&G’s global legal organization of approximately 500 people who are responsible for a broad scope of legal, compliance, government relations, public policy and brand protection functions for all of P&G and its employees, globally. She also serves as a primary resource to P&G’s Board of Directors for governance, securities, and process issues.

She came to P&G after serving as the Chairman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, focused on ensuring data security and protecting consumers from then-emerging frauds such as identity theft and spyware, and serving as Co-Chair of the President’s Identity Theft Task Force.

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