Having a Seat at the Table: An All-Female Panel at ACAMS Speaks Up

Topics: ACAMS, Diversity, Inclusion, Law Firms, Leadership, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Risk Management, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts


HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — At the recent annual Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS) conference, I had the great pleasure of moderating an unprecedented all-women panel, conveyed to speak about how women in the legal, compliance, and risk fields can secure a seat at the table and get their voices heard in order to be effective leaders in their organizations — and advance in their careers.

The panelists included Shannon Bennett, Sr. VP of Financial Crime Compliance Portfolio PMO at U.S. Bank; Kathy Enstrom, Executive Director of Operation, Policy and Support at IRS Criminal Investigation; Debra Geister, Manager and CEO at Section 2 Financial Intelligence Solutions; and Michelle Goodsir, Managing Director at K2 Intelligence.

The issues taken up by this panel are ripe for discussion: In a multi-year study published by the Alliance for Board Diversity in collaboration with Deloitte, women and minorities were found to hold an all-time high of 34% of board seats at Fortune 500 companies, up from 30.8% in 2016. Out of that percentage, however, the portion of women board member fell to 22.5%.

On the positive side, this is an all-time high in terms of participation rates for women. On the other hand, and realistically speaking, that’s not indicative of women’s occupational and educational participation rates. There is great work still to be done.

Male-dominated careers, companies and departments

The panel discussed how women can navigate their way and find their voices, so they’re heard and credited with their ideas. One best practice pointer offered was that when a new project or working group is needed, it could showcase certain targets pertaining to its membership in terms of gender, race, age, etc.


Panelists (l to r) Julie DiMauro, of Thomson Reuters Regulatory Intelligence; Shannon Bennett, of U.S. Bank; and Debra Geister, of Section 2 Financial Intelligence Solutions, join in the discussion at the annual ACAMS event.

But this commitment to numbers could backfire, as the group likely wants to attract those actually committed to the mission involved, experienced, and able to accommodate the time needed. It might not work with all project initiatives.

Stereotypes of female leaders

A BNY Mellon Pershing survey of 2,000 U.S. adults showed that younger Americans are less comfortable than older adults with women holding positions of power in traditional male fields.

That’s not a misstatement of the results. Those under the age of 34 were comfortable with women holding the following jobs in the following percentages: Women as U.S. senators (43%); Fortune 500 executives (39%); President of the United States (35%); or an engineer (34%). More than 50% of those over the age of 34 were comfortable with women in these roles.

But what if being a woman can give you an edge in your work? A female wealth management executive notes that she feels like being a woman helps her speak to female clients who might have different issues — taking time off from their careers, moving to part-time work, switching careers — than their male partners.

And some women might be making financial decisions for themselves that someone else had made for them once upon time. Women in this business sector can help such clients realize nothing they feel is out of the ordinary and make them more comfortable to ask needed questions.

Visibility to senior managers

Attendees had questions about how to get noticed for their work and ideas, particularly when it comes to people who interrupt frequently (whether male or not).

Panelists suggested saying something like, “Thank you for emphasizing my point — it’s important for us to discuss”; or offering some other cordial “Yes, that was my idea” reminder to the group as warranted here.

Panelists were adamant that just as important as being heard, women must be proactive about expressing their interests in doing something other than their work — such as learning opportunities or trying new projects at work and pointing out initiatives they want to access. “You cannot expect people to know what you have contributed,” panelists said. “Sometimes you need to toot your own horn.”

Career Advancement

It certainly helps to work for a business that values you personally and places a premium on women’s advancement, generally. But you can take certain actions that can help your cause, such as getting involved in projects and initiatives outside of day-to-day duties that enable you to meet new people or have new conversations with people you already know.

Joining a committee, working group, volunteering for a project or in the community with a business team, etc., can help you make those personal connections that sometimes translate into career opportunities.

Mentoring and women as managers

Several attendee queries revolved around the difficulties posed by working for a female manager — not all female managers, of course — but those female managers who act as if your ambition is encroaching on their territory.

It’s a tough area to discuss, as the panel was certainly not there to criticize women, However, we all strongly advocated getting involved with any formal mentoring arrangements offered by one’s business.

One attendee submitted a question that, appropriately enough, asked us to differentiate between what we mean by a career “mentor” and a “sponsor.”

A mentor is anyone in a position with experience desired by a mentee who offers advice and support, helping them build skills, qualities, and confidence for career advancement. Mentors give mentees suggestions on how to expand their network.

A sponsor is a senior level staff member invested in a protégé’s career success; someone who promotes them directly, using their influence and networks to connect the protégé to key assignments, people, salary increases, and promotions.

A couple of panelists suggested crafting a less formal arrangement in which you select a mentor yourself and ask for periodic meetings and idea-swapping sessions with them.

When your job takes a nosedive

There might be ways to revive the job and your psyche — and finding someone to lean on could help. But if there is a truly poor corporate culture at your place of work, it might be time to leave.

Remember, however, it’s important to take the time to document your efforts to do your job well and catalog any roadblocks thrown in your way — just for your own sake, if you should need it.

And, if you do move on, be careful about what you say about the company. Word travels fast, thanks to social media, and the legal and compliance worlds are smaller than we might suspect.