Welcome to Six Questions with an Ethics & Compliance Officer, a new interview series created in conjunction with National Compliance Officer Day. Each post will shine the spotlight on a different member of the E&C community, from established CCOs and CECOs with years of experience to rising stars with a passion for ethical behavior.

Q: How long have you been working in ethics and compliance?

I officially started in the industry in 1999, when I arrived at what was then called the Ethics Resource Center (now part of ECI). However, for about a decade prior to that I was working and studying in the area of character development. I was developing curricula and training programs to help educational institutions encourage integrity in students. A lot of what I do now draws from that experience, so all told, I have been working in E&C for almost three decades.

Q: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to be a teacher. In fact, my undergraduate degree is in early childhood and elementary education. I never used my teaching certification, but it certainly gave me the grounding that I use every day now. I eventually went on to get a Ph.D. in the philosophy of education, focusing on ethics.

Q: What are some of the most rewarding and challenging parts of your job?

By far, the most rewarding thing for me is getting the opportunity to witness the impact that in-house E&C professionals have on their workplace environments. ECI has been fortunate to develop insights from research about how to raise the bar for ethics & compliance in an organization. We also have the privilege of convening a community of professionals who are dedicated to developing high-quality programs in their organizations. It’s great fun for me to talk with our members and to learn about the new ideas they are implementing, or the challenges they are overcoming. Over the years I’ve seen some organizations radically transform because of some tremendously dedicated E&C professionals who worked hard behind the scenes.

Q: What are three important traits a Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer should possess?

The most successful CECOs I’ve seen have three common qualities.

  1. They are principled people, meaning that they have a deep commitment to personal values, and that governs the way they live their lives.
  2. They have the courage to speak truth to power, and to raise new ideas.
  3. They have tremendous perseverance. Ours is not an easy profession, and having the ability to press on in difficult times is paramount.

Q: If someone wanted to get more involved in promoting ethical behavior in their organization today, what could they do?

When it comes to ethical conduct, there is a big power in small gestures. I would encourage someone who wants to promote ethical behavior to take a look at the core values that have been articulated by their organization and to work them into their conversations. It’s not hard to do, but it’s easy to forget that we need to make those values part of our regular vocabulary. It’s surprising to see how big of an impact that simple action can have.

Q: What advice would you give to recent college graduates and other professionals who may want to pursue a career in ethics and compliance?

One thing I’ve appreciated about our profession is that people find their way into E&C careers through lots of different channels. Some people come from legal backgrounds; others from law enforcement. I even know some people who have served as CECOs who have divinity degrees.

So my first piece of advice is to dive into the profession, regardless of the field in which you have a degree. There are some highly regarded graduate programs in E&C nowadays if that is of interest. But at any given time, there are also a number of companies that are looking to hire eager individuals who are willing to learn. ECI has a jobs board that lists available positions, as do other associations in our industry. Finally, I’d encourage them to join ECI – it’s a great way to get to know our industry, and to network with some of the finest thought leaders and practitioners that you will ever meet.


Dr. Patricia J. Harned is the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI). Dr. Harned oversees ECI’s research agenda and its networking and conference events. She also directs outreach efforts to policymakers and federal enforcement agencies in Washington, D.C., and speaks and writes frequently as an expert on ethics in the workplace, corporate governance, and global integrity. Dr. Harned advises CEOs and directors on effective ways to build an ethical culture and promote integrity in organizational activities.