First-Ever Women’s Panel: Sayonara Old School Gender Roles

Thick skin and confidence. Those are just two of the skills the first-ever women’s panel offered female anti-fraud professionals during yesterday’s session at the ACFE Global Fraud Conference. Cynthia Cooper, CFE, CEO of Cooper Group, moderated a panel of five women representing public, private, government and corporate worlds. The panelists included Tiffany Couch, CFE, CPA, CFF, Principal at Acuity Forensics; Sharon Curry, CFE, Director of Global Investigations at Wal-Mart; Francine Gross, Chief of the Economic Crimes Unit at the FBI; Leah Lane, CFE, CFS, Global Investigations Director at Texas Instruments, Inc.; and Liseli Pennings, Special Agent at the U.S. Department of Treasury. 

Below are a few of the important takeaways that any female professional would benefit from implementing: 

Say ‘no’ more. You don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything to show that you are competent and able. You can say ‘no’ to certain projects. Pick the quality ones to step up and handle.

Hone two important skills: communication and confidence. As Lane said, “You must know how to communicate both verbally and in writing. You need to be able to present findings and give directions.” Along with that, you need confidence. You even need confidence when you may not have it. “You have to find ways to make yourself more confident,” Gross said. “You have to believe in yourself.” And even if that confidence is lacking, according to Couch, “you have to fake it until you make it. You have to act confident even if you don’t feel like it.”

Being a female can be an advantage. Characteristics that many women exhibit, like multitasking and an attention to detail, play huge roles in being a successful anti-fraud professional. Use these skills, perfect these skills and own these skills. Gross also mentioned that some people are more comfortable talking to women and sharing information with them. She recommends using the assumption that you are easier to talk to and get the most information you can. 

Accept the mommy-guilt and don’t listen to the nay-sayers. Balancing parenthood with your career is simply that, a balance. Two of the panelists, and some of the audience members, mentioned that their husbands are or were stay-at-home dads. That’s okay, they said. It works and it is what is best for their families. There are no specific gender roles assigned to working and parenting. If you hear different, ignore it.

Develop really thick skin. One attendee asked for advice in dealing with inappropriate jokes or male-dominated environments that unknowingly exclude females. The panel’s response was to never get emotional about it and don’t be too sensitive; it isn’t personal. Use a sense of humor to lighten a situation and know your personal threshold for dealing with these potential situations. And, if a line is crossed, hold people accountable for their actions.

No one is going to help you, but you. If you are lacking in a professional area, look for training. If you need a mentor, find one. You are in control of how far you will go.

The last piece of advice that definitely received the most laughs and some applause was what Couch’s mentor shared with her many years ago: “He told me, ‘Tiffany, you may be the smartest person in the room, but don’t act like you know you are the smartest person in the room.’”