LRN Perspectives

Growing Culture: Cheryl Curbeam Engineers an E&C Career at Corteva Agriscience
May 7, 2021  LRN Corporation

 

“No longer can you just have a conversation with someone that sits next to you, or in the hallway. People have to be more intentional about it, so we have had to step up our messaging about the hotline.”

- Cheryl Curbeam

ABOUT CHERYL CURBEAM

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Cheryl Curbeam is the chief ethics and compliance officer for Corteva Agriscience, a global agriculture company that launched as a publicly traded company in June 2019. Cheryl leads a global team to implement a new ethics and compliance program that inclkudes the creation of its first Corteva Code of Conduct, an Ethics and Compliance Hotline, employee training and certification, compliance policies, and mobile app. Full disclosure: Corteva is an LRN partner, and we worked with Cheryl and her team in helping them create their code.

Prior to her career at Corteva, Cheryl had progressive leadership roles at DuPont including assignments in operations, sales and marketing, and compliance. She holds a master of science degree in mechanical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from University of Tennessee. She is also a certified Corporate Compliance and Ethics Professional and Six Sigma Master Black Belt.

 

WHAT YOU'LL LEARN THIS EPISODE...

  • [1:29] How has Curbeam’s career path led her to her current position at Corteva?

  • [3:23] How is Corteva’s E & C program structured and who does Curbeam report to?

  • [4:35] What are Corteva’s core values and how are they implemented in the structure of their E & C program?

  • [6:19] How has Covid changed the way that Corteva trains and communicates with their employees?

  • [9:28] What does Curbeam anticipate the lasting impact of Covid will be in the business world?

  • [10:37] How has Corteva conducted employee onboarding during the pandemic?

  • [11:34] What is Curbeam’s perspective on the call for racial justice during the summer of 2020?

  • [13:46] What can the E & C community do to promote more diversity?

     

TRANSCRIPTION:

Intro: Welcome to the Principled Podcast brought to you by LRN. The Principled Podcast brings together the collective wisdom on ethics, business and compliance, transformative stories of leadership, and inspiring workplace culture. Listen in to discover valuable strategies from our community of business leaders and workplace changemakers.

Ben DiPietro: Hello, everybody and welcome to another episode of season five of LRN's Principled Podcast. My name is Ben DiPietro. I'm the editor of LRN's E&C Pulse Newsletter. You can find that on our website, lrn.com, click the resources tab, and then click on the newsletter tab. And please sign up. We'd love to have you as a subscriber.

With me today is Cheryl Curbeam, the Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer for Corteva Agriscience, a global agriculture company that launched as a publicly traded company in June of 2019. Cheryl leads a global team to implement an ethics and compliance program that includes the creation of the company's first ever code of conduct, an ethics and compliance hotline, employee training and certifications, and a mobile app. Let's welcome, Cheryl. How are you today? And thank you for taking time.

Cheryl Curbeam: I am well. Thank you, Ben, for the opportunity to speak with you today.

Ben DiPietro: It's good to have you here. So tell us a bit about your journey in the world of ethics and compliance. How did you become interested in this? And tell us a little bit about the career path you've taken to get where you are now at Corteva.

Cheryl Curbeam: I would like to say that Corteva sells... People think we're an ad company, so that can mean a lot of different things, but I wanted to let you know that we sell seeds, we sell crop protection and digital solutions for farmers.

So how I started my journey is I'm a mechanical engineer by training, have both a bachelor's and master's in mechanical engineering. And so it's not likely that I would have ended up in ethics and compliance, but I spent the first third of my career in operations and aspirations and leadership assignments. The second third of my career was spent in sales and marketing, and I had some really fun jobs in sales and marketing. And one of those fun jobs was to provide and support the fibers and fabrics that go into firefighter clothing. It was one of the best jobs ever, but it required a lot of travel. And I was out of my home three out of the four weekends. I was gone 80% of the time. And around that time I got married and had children and it just became so challenging with the travel and managing my personal life.

And so I started to think about other career options for me. And then I looked for roles within the business because I love the sales and marketing side. So I started doing compliance for the business, which led to corporate compliance for the company that I was with. I was with Heritage Legacy Company [Ducon 00:02:56] at the time. And then I was asked to join Corteva in 2018, before we launched our company and I had the privilege of being promoted into the role for Chief ethics and Compliance Officer. And so I've added now data privacy to my responsibilities as well as enterprise risk management.

Ben DiPietro: And so tell us a little bit about the program then. You've basically clearly started everything. How is it structured and who do you report to?

Cheryl Curbeam: Our Ethics and Compliance Program is structured globally. So we have major commercial regions around the world. So we have an ethics and compliance officer in each of the major regions. So we have one for US and Canada. Another person covers Latin America. One covers Europe, one covers Africa, Middle East, and one covers Asia-Pacific. So, that's also the way that we're structured with data privacy. My role reports into the general counsel, who's also our board secretary. And then we also have a governance structure. So our executives sit on what we call our Ethics and Compliance Committee and we meet quarterly and they provide oversight for our program, for our policies and our initiatives. And then I also have regular updates with our board of directors. So, that's how we're structured.

Ben DiPietro: So tell us a bit about the company's core values and how those values are reflected in your culture and your code and the role that E&C plays then in disseminating those values and making sure everybody in the company knows of them and is working to adhere to them as much as they can.

Related Article: Best Codes Drive and Reinforce Values, Ethics 

Cheryl Curbeam: I really like that question because the purpose of our company, we think we're here to feed the world. And so the official purpose of our company is to enrich the lives of those who produce and those who consume and sharing progress for generations to come. And I love the part about our purpose being for not only for me, but for people that come behind me.

So everything we do kind of starts with our purpose, our code, which LRN helped us to develop. And our supplier code of conduct start with our purpose. And then we talk about our values. So we have six key values. One of the values is around be upstanding, which we have owned that in the ethics and compliance space, but the other ones are to enrich lives, to stand tall, to be curious, to build together, and to live safely. So our code is titled, We Are Upstanding. So, it's a flip on the value be upstanding. And everything that we do, all the courses that we launch through LRN start with We Are Upstanding. So that's one message that we keep core to us in ethics and compliance. And when we launch our annual training, we have a Be Upstanding month. And that month is, and we started this last year, dedicated to webinars and activities, and also just a fun and creative way to launch our annual training campaign.

Ben DiPietro: Obviously COVID is impacting you guys the way it's impacting everybody. How is it changing the way you try to maintain continuity in your messaging and training and support for employees?

Cheryl Curbeam: I think COVID has had an impact on everyone. And when you think about 2020, and some of the keywords and phrases, you think about pandemic, you think about Zoom, you think about racial reckoning, you think about the presidential election, all of those things in addition to COVID kind of have merged together and they will probably always be with us.

So it was a year for us and it still is a year of resilience. And so everything that we thought about for 2020 and 2021, everything has to be thought of in a virtual content. All of our training is now virtually delivered, but we've been very creative. We get to see the creativity of our employees, of how to not only title things, but make things interesting and interactive. And we've trained outside of our online training. Just in the webinar format, we've trained over 11,000 of our employees that way.

Another key shift for us and probably for all companies is how you conduct ethics investigations. Instead of flying to a location and conducting in-person interviews, we really had to shift the way that we interview and collect information so that it's in a virtual format. And we've had to even hire external investigations companies to help us and assist us with some of the more complex investigations.

And I think one of the key things that has changed is how we get employees to speak up and seek help and how we're able to detect issues in the workplace because no longer can you just have a conversation with someone that sits next to you or in the hallway, people have to be more intentional about it. And so we have had to step up our messaging around the use of the hotline, how it works, how it's managed by a third-party vendor. It's a great way to report things anonymously. Those are some of the key changes that we've had to really think about.

And the last thing I want to mention, I don't know if other companies had to deal with this, but we've had to really address the use of social media. And so with the monumental, I call it presidential election that we had in the US last year, people have felt free to share their opinions and ideas. And we certainly don't look at employee's personal social media accounts, but when issues are brought to us, we have to remind our employees that what they say and what they write, whether it's within the company, but also in social media has a reflection on who we are as a company. And so we've had to really think about sharing that message with our employees, that we are not actively looking at their social media, but what they say and what they write, reflect positively and negatively on our company.

Related article: Adapting to change: Training Your Global Virtual Workforce

Ben DiPietro: Beyond remote work then, what do you think would be the lasting legacy of this pandemic and the way it changes the role of ethics and compliance and the [inaudible 00:09:29]?

Cheryl Curbeam: My perspective is that let's face it, we're never going to be traveling at the same levels we were traveling before the pandemic. And so, we have to adjust. It's not just a temporary adjustment to a virtual and remote workforce. I think it's a permanent one. And we have to adjust and continue to communicate how the employees can speak up and seek help. So I don't think that's going to change either. And I think another lasting legacy which I spoke about is how we do investigations. So, that'll be a permanent change.

But I think the thing that I haven't really touched on is the hiring of talent, which I think is a real positive. I've had the pleasure of hiring three people on our team remotely. And I think what that does is you no longer have to restrict people to a geography to get great talent. And I think that's a great positive, that no longer will you have to require that people be in one of our three headquarter locations or be near one of our major global centers in order to be in ethics and compliance.

Ben DiPietro: How do you do the onboarding? It's sort of different now.

Cheryl Curbeam: That's another great question. So we do all of the talent scouting virtually. We do the interview panels virtually. People meet into a Zoom room. We also onboard them virtually. We have a phenomenal ethics and compliance team, but we also have phenomenal IT support. And so they shift them the computer, they set up a virtual onboarding session for their computer and phone. We set up mentoring appointments virtually. So everything that we do to onboard new employees is virtual.

Ben DiPietro: You mentioned a little bit before last year was a bit of a strange one, certainly politically. And also part of that was the cry for racial justice that led to worldwide protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which no doubt effected you as a woman of color. Can you talk about since all that's happened, what are you thinking and are you hopeful that it will lead to some meaningful change?

 Cheryl Curbeam: So for the audience, yes, I am a black woman. I'm the proud mom of two black teenage boys. I'm married to a black husband. So for me, the killing of Mr. Floyd was one of several horrible killings that we've had to witness, unfortunately, through social media or through the news channels. Because I deal with this probably every day, for many black families this is the reality that we have to deal with about personal safety. I am hopeful. I'm very hopeful. My faith gives me a lot of hope. It was deeply painful to actually witness Mr. Floyd being killed. I think one of the fortunate parts, if you can even say that was that other people got to witness it too. And what gave me hope was that the global community responded, they responded by using peaceful protests. And really companies responded as well by making hopefully meaningful change about the way we tend to look at people.

And so I've been doing a lot of reading and reflection on my own, but I have a great homework assignment for anyone that is listening and someone who wants to read a good book. So I've been digesting a book called Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, and it really parallels the US culture with Indian culture, with some very horrible things that happened during the Holocaust. And it just, it really provides a picture on structural or systemic racism just to give an understanding of how we got to where we were to see how big the problem is. And I am very hopeful that once you understand the problem, you can fix the problem.

Ben DiPietro: Yes, let's hope as we go forward here. Let me ask you one final question and I thank you again for taking time with us today. Really appreciate it. You mentioned businesses sort of have stepped up to a certain degree after this season of racial awareness. What can the E&C community do now to bring more diversity to its ranks?

Cheryl Curbeam: Yeah, so we means me. So what can I do? What can others do? Ethics and compliance unfortunately, isn't one of those careers that many people aspire to right out of the university setting. We typically don't hire current college graduates into these roles. I think there's a wonderful opportunity to either bring in new talent from the outside or develop talent from within the company. I'm a great example of someone who was promoted from within my company. I had a great leader who saw that I could potentially do compliance work for a business and then for the company and then for Corteva. So developing talent from within is a great way to bring diversity into the ranks of ethics and compliance.

And another great way that I have also used is to hire external talent and to be very intentional about having a diverse set of candidates to draw from, to personally interview, to panel interview, and to also make sure that we have a diverse set of people looking at the candidates. I recently became aware of a few organizations that we have used to seek out new talent, the National Association of Black Compliance and Risk Management Professionals is one of them. There's several women in compliance organizations. And just really intentionally finding candidates that meet our criteria, I think is one way to really help, to find and broaden the pool of talent for ethics and compliance.

Ben DiPietro: That's great to hear that, they're actually creating those kind of associations and doing that networking to help bring their profiles up so people know they're there and to have people make sure that they're being interviewed and getting those opportunities. With that, I want to thank you so much for being with us. And I look forward to seeing you again when we're all allowed to be outside. Until then, stay safe, Cheryl.

Cheryl Curbeam: Thank you, Ben. Thanks for the opportunity.

Outro: We hope you enjoyed this episode. The Principled Podcast is brought to you by LRN. At LRN, our mission is to inspire principled performance in global organizations by helping them foster winning ethical cultures rooted in sustainable values. Please visit us at lrn.com to learn more. And if you enjoyed this episode, subscribe to our podcasts on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen. And don't forget to leave us a review.

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