CXO

Corporate Ethics Officer: A new job title makes an appearance

Because of all the recent corporate scandals, some companies are trying to ensure their trustworthiness by hiring Corporate Ethics Officers. Here's what the job entails.

Because of all the recent corporate scandals, some companies are trying to ensure their trustworthiness by hiring Corporate Ethics Officers. Here's what the job entails.

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Let me walk you through my reactions to this. First, the term "Corporate Ethics" is perhaps the best example of an oxymoron ever. Add the word "officer," and you conjure the mental image of that orange-belt-wearing safety patrol from the fourth grade who tried in vain to keep the mean kids from crossing against the light.

It seems at first blush to be the most unlikely position any self-respecting corporate power would hire for. But it is a growing area for a number of reasons.

First, thanks to scandal kings like Enron and Tyco, there is a call for corporations to prove that they're not corrupt. For some, the addition of a Corporate Ethics Officer to the staff may just be PR window dressing. (In other words, they hire someone, give them that title, and then completely ignore anything they try to narc about.)

But savvy CEOs know that it's about more than spin. New and stricter laws that hold corporations responsible for employee behavior mean that corporations must have better ways of uncovering and handling those behaviors. Employee use of the Web at work would be just one area where a Corporate Ethics Officer could focus.

Third, employee-filed lawsuits against companies for sexual harrassment or hostile work environments are becoming more common. The Corporate Ethics Officer could focus on these areas where middle managers often don't know how to respond.

If this sounds like a direction you'd like to pursue as a career, you might find that many business schools don't offer much in the way of ethics education. And if they do, it's unlikely that they teach it in light of the ethics issues that surround the newer world of electronic data.

So where do you go? Here are a couple of places to start looking:

Ethics & Compliance Officer Association (a professional association that also provides training)

http://www.theecoa.org

Ethics Resource Center

http://www.ethics.org/

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Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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