Ethics and Compliance Initiative CEO On The Dispiriting Trend of Retaliation

Pat Harned, CEO of Ethics and Compliance Initiative
Pat Harned, CEO of Ethics and Compliance Initiative

Pat Harned, CEO of the Ethics and Compliance Initiative (ECI), has a doctorate in character.

Harned earned a doctorate in philosophy education from the University of Pittsburgh, but specifically she learned how people develop character and influence organizations. This makes her an ideal fit for her current role at ECI, which serves as a membership organization for ethics and compliance practitioners, while also conducting research on corporate ethics trends and offering certifications for ethics programs.

Harned and ECI works with corporate boards to ensure they are implementing an ethics and compliance program and that it’s staying on top of ethics violations. In the era of #metoo, data security and privacy, and more, this is a crucial area for boards. She spoke with Corporate Board Member for a wide-ranging, two-part interview about its business ethics survey, trends in ethics, and more. Below is part one of the interview.

How did you get to your role currently as the CEO of the Ethics and Compliance Initiative?

I first came to this organization almost 20 years ago. And my background is in education. I have a PhD in character development, essentially how people develop character and the influence of organizations on them. And I came to our center to help create a character development program for schools. So we, the organization wanted to get into the business of writing curriculum to help teachers teach character in the classroom. But I wasn’t here very long before I started to get involved in the research work we were doing, which has been primarily focused on the global business ethics survey, which I’m sure we’ll talk about.

“So we knew that if reporting was going to be at an all-time high, retaliation probably would be as well, but they tend to rise and fall in tandem. And what we saw this time was that, while reporting rose, retaliation rose much higher.”

Over time, I got much more involved in the corporate work that we were doing, mostly because there was not a lot of difference between what you try to do in a classroom and what you’re trying to do in a workplace in terms of just influencing and encouraging the right kind of conduct. So over time, I rose up in leadership and then we had our then president left the organization and I stepped into an acting role, and then it became permanent. So it wasn’t ever really my career plan. But then again, I think for most people, they end up in jobs that they probably never expected to be in. So yeah, that’s how it happened.

 So talk to me a little bit about the Ethics and Compliance Initiative and talk about what you guys do for the readers who might not know what an organization like you would focus on.

What we essentially do is really three primary things. We do research to try to help businesses and other organizational leaders understand what are the drivers of ethical conduct in their organizations. We look at trends, what are the big issues that people are seeing in the workplace, and we do a lot of studies around the things that businesses do that actually are productive in creating an ethical culture. And then based on that research, we consult with organizations if they ask for us to fill similar surveys internally so that they can just gauge how they’re doing against the benchmarks that we’ve collected.

The second big thing that we do is we are a membership organization for ethics and compliance practitioners. As you probably know, most organizations these days, especially if they are publicly traded or doing governmental work or global organizations, they have [people who work on] ethics and compliance functions. So we host events and do professional development for those folks, just to help them improve their practice.