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Female fraud fighters are leading the charge



On March 8 we celebrate International Women's Day. Since the inception of the ACFE in 1988, female membership has grown tremendously. We can be proud that the anti-fraud profession has become an ideal place for ambitious women fraud fighters who can use their unique qualities.

In honor of this day, Mandy Moody, CFE, ACFE media manager, and Emily Primeaux, assistant editor of Fraud Magazine, sat down with the three newly inducted female Board of Regents' members after their meeting at ACFE Headquarters on February 25 to discuss the role of women in the anti-fraud profession. The women on the first-ever female-majority Board include Leah D. Lane, CFE, director of global investigations at Texas Instruments; Nancy E. Rich, CFE, special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service; and Tiffany R. Couch, CFE, CPA/CFF, principal at Acuity Forensics.

A changing landscape

"I started my career in the late '80s in law enforcement, and I was in West Texas where female law enforcement just wasn't there," says Leah. "And so I've seen the field change … Now you see female executives in our industry. You see expert witnesses. You see society accepting the female role and what we do."

Though they come from diverse backgrounds — from law enforcement, government and accounting — they all echoed the same sentiment: Women are finding more careers as investigators.

"When I was first hired, only eight out of 48 people in my class were women," says Nancy, who has been a U.S. federal special agent for the past 25 years. "Women in my organization can now be stationed onboard ships as 'Agents Afloat' and can also be forward-deployed into war zones. The field of fraud has grown exponentially."

However, Nancy explained that working in the fraud department has enabled her to lead a more traditional lifestyle. "Fraud is more 9-to-5, so it is a better role for many women to be in. That's why I've stayed in fraud in my department. It's more conducive to a traditional female lifestyle of taking care of children," says Nancy.

And they all agree that because of the appealing lifestyle and increasing interest, the profession will only grow for women. "I think having a majority on the Board of Regents this year is very telling and hopefully indicative of having more females become leaders in this industry," says Leah.

Referencing the growing list of female leaders who run their own businesses or head anti-fraud divisions of their companies, Tiffany says, "I think women are going to lead the charge within companies to recognize the significant impact of fraud. Everywhere I go, I'm finding that it's women who are in charge of the fraud departments or investigative divisions of large companies, or they're the ones charged with starting such departments. They're sitting at the table with a voice making the case for having a plan to deal with fraud. I love it!"

Interviewing well

Another hot-button topic was the role of female fraud examiners during interviews. They expressed the importance of tapping into the qualities that women possess —such as compassion, empathy and attention to detail — because male counterparts might play a more aggressive role.

"Women are inherently more emotional, maternal and empathetic than their male counterparts," says Tiffany. "In my practice, I find that using the empathetic side of myself is critical in any fraud examination. I find that when I first deal with the emotional impacts of what's happening to my client, I will gather more information from them and my interview subjects than if I had gone in solely as a 'hardened professional.'"

Nancy touched on preparation and setting hard rules with your interviewing partner before stepping into the room. "Always be prepared with your interviews and know your partners that you're going in there with," she says. "Everyone has to know their role. Working with each other and relationships make a big difference."

She also explained that sometimes you have to calm your male partner down. "They always want to be the lead, but you have to sit them down and say, 'Look, these are our roles, this is what's going to happen,' so everything's clear before going in," says Nancy. "It's trial and error and getting to know your partner. It's not always easy."

Advice for younger professionals

"There are a lot of shortcuts in life, but in investigations, not so much. Spend the time, do the work," says Leah. "Yes, sometimes it is voluminous. Yes, sometimes it is very laborious. Yes, sometimes it's more than 40 hours in a week. But for that investigation, put 110 percent of your focus into it and it'll come out that much better."

And as technology becomes commonplace in business and fraud examinations, younger professionals are at an advantage. But all three women agree that young professionals need to disconnect from their devices and work on their face-to-face interactions.

"Young professionals are much more tech savvy, but when it comes to talking to someone face-to-face, they generally lack those skills," says Nancy.

Leah agreed and mentioned that younger professionals are more open to new investigative or audit tools that could produce efficiencies in the workplace. However, she believes that they want instant gratification, which means they might not be willing to dig deep enough in cases.

Nancy had a piece of advice to help young fraud fighters tackle these challenges: Take direction from experienced workers. Ask questions and use the knowledge of those who have been doing their jobs for much longer. "I try to give guidance on how to avoid pitfalls or how to speed up an investigation," she says. "In the Asian culture, like here in Singapore, mature agents are treated with great respect for their experience and the positions they hold."

Don't be afraid to ask tough questions

As we neared the end of the day and Tiffany, Leah and Nancy started to make arrangements to get to the airport, we asked them one last question: What attributes do you think women have that contribute to being a good fraud examiner, accountant, leader, etc.?

The answers ranged from being a team player, being organized, having a skeptical mind and using great communication skills. But most importantly…

"You have to not be afraid to ask that question," says Leah. "You have to be able to look someone in the eye and tell them, 'I don't think you're telling the truth.' "

Emily Primeaux is assistant editor of Fraud Magazine. Her email address is: eprimeaux@ACFE.com.

 




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