Diversity and Inclusion in the ABAC Space

ACR Brief 12 January

Diversity and Inclusion in the ABAC Space

Last month I had the pleasure of attending ACI’s 38th International Conference on the FCPA, which is always one of the most anticipated anti-corruption conferences of the year. There were numerous anti-corruption enforcers from the U.S. as well as the U.K. and France, reflecting on the year in enforcement and hinting at what is to come. They indicated that, despite a slow enforcement year, the pipeline of cases is full and that they are increasingly using advanced techniques to proactively investigate corruption rather than waiting for companies to self-report or for whistleblowers to sound the alarm.

While it was invigorating to see the FCPA bar gathered together again after COVID 19 kept everyone apart for so long, there was one aspect of the conference I found a bit dismaying: of the nine speakers from the U.S. government there was only one woman and she was confined to a breakout panel that was not open to the press. The opening Year in Review panel and closing Town Hall, which are always the highlight of the conference, as well as several other panels and Q&As, were populated entirely by men, a notable change from years past and a surprising visual in a year when diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) were top of mind for many companies.

Three former DOJ prosecutors I reached out to reassured me that the representation at the conference was not a regression in gender equity at the Department. “Successive DOJ Criminal Fraud Section leadership teams have made diversity, equity and inclusion a top priority in recruiting, training, and career development and progression opportunities,” Albert (BJ) Stieglitz, a partner at Alston & Bird, told me in an email. Scott Hulsey of Kobre & Kim noted that President Biden’s political appointments both at Main Justice and at the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices reflect greater diversity on a number of measures than in recent history.

“I don’t think that there has been a regression in DEI in the agencies that are actually working the cases,” Nat Edmonds, a partner at Paul Hastings, told me. “The FCPA Unit’s trial attorneys and SEC enforcement attorneys are significantly more diverse than the supervisors that are selected to speak,” he said, suggesting that the issue is one at the supervisory level, not the working level, a familiar pattern. “The practice of law, especially at the senior levels, has ongoing challenges with diversity, equity and inclusion both in government and at law firms,” he observed.

Even if the lack of women government enforcers on the mainstage at ACI does not represent a backwards trend, gender inequity in senior roles at the SEC and DOJ is an issue we will be keeping our eye on, especially since these agencies are feeders into private practice and in-house roles, as well. We would love to hear your thoughts on gender equity in FCPA enforcement, whether things are better or worse in private practice and in-house, and what could be done to make the anti-corruption space more equitable and inclusive.