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Women may dominate the compliance officer field, but it should lead to other corporate opportunities

Compliance officer positions should not be a dead end for women in their path to career advancement

Some fields in corporate America seem to be more open to women than others. One such field is compliance. Some 60 percent of the members of the Society for Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) are women.

That is great news for women interested in the field, which no doubt include many with legal backgrounds, but there are also some reasons for concern, according to a recent article from 

Women who are compliance offers, need to “be in true leadership positions where they can actually move the dial on corporate ethics,” according to the article’s author,  Shanti Atkins, president of NAVEX Global, an ethics and compliance company.

“It’s essential that these are positions of influence that go right to the top, representing actual advancement,” she adds. “Otherwise, a golden opportunity will be lost to truly enhance women leadership, and to best utilize these professionals to re-build the battered reputation of corporate ethics that is the result of a sorry decade of scandal, damage, and a complete erosion of trust.” 

But it was not encouraging to find that only 33 percent of compliance officers report directly to the CEO in publicly-traded companies, Atkins said. 

The role is important. Compliance officers are responsible for creating and enforcing regulations relating to an organization’s integrity, ethics and values. Salaries are impressive. Large companies pay chief compliance officers between $162,000 and $232,000, according to Robert Half data. Salaries for hedge fund compliance officers are as high as $800,000, Atkins said. 

Given their talent and responsibilities, compliance officers could be a source of senior level executives for the C-suite, as well.

“Drawing leaders from compliance professionals will ensure greater diversity along with leveraging a unique set of skills and perspectives around organizational culture, reputational value and risk mitigation,” Atkins said. “This can only be good for business because, simply put, the larger the pool of talent, the better the quality you can draw.”

Another area where women tend to concentrate is human resources. As of 2012, 72.7 percent of U.S. HR managers were women.

But in HR, “women and men develop a sophisticated understanding of the company culture, work hard to improve it, yet have little say at the most senior levels, and are rarely called upon to fill top roles,” Atkins said, adding this is a warning to what may happen with compliance officers.

After all, recent data show women make up only 4.6 percent of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies. They hold only 16.9 percent of board of directors’ seats at Fortune 500 companies. Women represented nearly 18 percent of the total of senior Fortune 500 executives in 2011, as well, according to Inside Counsel.

More opportunities need to open for women in corporations – at all levels, including the CEO’s office. The company and the individual employee will benefit. After all, the ideal for those who enter the compliance officer field, as well as other corporate fields, is to not just to be successful “in their own careers, but also in carrying out their organization’s business mission,” InsideCounsel reported.


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Ed Silverstein

Ed Silverstein ( is a veteran freelance writer and and editor for magazines, websites and newspapers. He writes frequently for ALM Media's

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