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Women in compliance: Don’t linger in the wrong job

I’ve been looking at the role women now play in compliance in the United States and overseas. The good news is that more women have come into the ranks in top level compliance positions. But not all women have found success in those roles.

Let’s look at some of the reasons for this mixed result.

Thirty years ago, compliance was considered an administrative function — almost like an administrative assistant — so it was a natural position for a woman,” Tina Petruziello, Founder and Compliance Principal at Boston Compliance Associates explained.

With the evolution of compliance as a “serious profession,” more and more men joined the ranks. This has made it more challenging for women, especially in senior level roles, to maintain their clout.

But that phenomenon largely depends on the perspective of a business’ senior management.

“If the compliance role is one that has influence throughout the firm, regardless of the gender of the person occupying it, the professional will flourish. It all comes down to corporate support,” Petruziello said.

What does a female compliance professional do if she knows she is not being given the pay, stature or access to executive leadership she requires to perform well, after over a year on the job and after advocating for these features of the role?

“I would advise to start looking for another firm,” said Maria Tomlinson, general counsel and chief compliance officer of Optimal Payments Services, Inc. in New York.

“Although I also have to advise her that no place is perfect. So, she should think about making a list of what is most important to her and strive to get the top couple of items on that list — and maybe 88 percent of the other items,” said Tomlinson.

There is no need to linger in an atmosphere of little to no support when compliance and risk skills sets are coveted in any number of regulated industries.

One reason not to linger in an unsuitable position is that compliance today is a growing opportunity. The demand for more expertise, especially in the financial services and pharma sectors, has never been greater.

That opens the door for more individuals — both men and women — to enter the compliance field or to seek new positions that might provide a more congenial work environment.


Julie DiMauro is a regulatory intelligence expert in the Enterprise Risk division of Thomson Reuters Regulatory Intelligence (TRRI). Follow Julie on Twitter @Julie_DiMauro and email her at [email protected].

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  1. This is an accurate observation on the evolution of the profession. But I don't see it thru a gender lens. I advise akk CCOs to choose their roles carefully- in my "No Crying in Compliance" columns I explain why. If we're going to take on these hard roles, we need to make sure our efforts advance us and the profession.

  2. From my experience and through my observation, most senior compliance roles are held by men, and have overwhelmingly always been held by men. To me it is quite simple, if one is a female in a senior position performing on par with her male colleagues but being overlooked for more senior roles/strategic projects to take on/promotions etc. then she needs to move.

  3. Agree with both Sameera and Donna. The advice is of broad application regardless of gender, and it's not a question of being happy in the role so much as questioning whether you can be effective in the role. More than most senior positions, a CCO has a professional obligation to question his or her ability to operate and meet professional obligations as well as corporate goals. I do believe gender has a role here, though, to the extent that women's voices are still not always heard at the same volume as men's. This is especially true where reporting lines are not respected and where the CCO is the only woman or in a small minority on the management team. Still, the best way to improve this overall is by proof, and especially with an eye to making compliance a business value-add and strategic contributor.

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