Women in compliance

It’s not every day you’re able to be surrounded by powerful women in technology and compliance. Luckily, Women’s History Month helps those of us in the tech space pause and take stock of the incredible women leading the charge in the industry. However, while the number of successful women in positions of power has increased over time the gender gap still very much exists.

But why is that the case? And how can we begin to close that gap? 

In a statistic from Zippia, women hold fewer than 20% of leadership positions in the technology industry, with less than 15% being CEOs.

Although jarring, this stat is unfortunately unsurprising. It’s one I’ve come to expect throughout the entirety of my career, unfortunately. But, as I sat in workshops for girls in STEM (science, technology, and math) and heard copious amounts of positive encouragement to enter a career in technology, I couldn’t help but wonder – why are the numbers so low? Where are all the women who I know have had a rippling effect on this industry? 

So I made it my mission to surround myself with women who have done it. Those who have been mentors for me so that I could be one for the next generation, ultimately continuing to further close the gap. 

In this  special Women’s History Month edition of Cristina’s Compliance Corner, I wanted to shine a light on two women who inspire me and continue to push the needle on gender equality in the tech space: 

  • Eva Pittas, Thoropass (formerly Laika) co-founder, President & COO, has an impressive background in finance and risk management/consulting before launching Laika with her co-founders after identifying a need in the compliance industry.
  • Rachel Quick, of OCR Labs, has long been in the technology and software space and has learned firsthand about the importance of compliance and information security. She works as the SVP of the Customer team at OCR Labs. 

The vibrant discussion included highlights around paths (and blockers) to success, the future of leadership opportunities for women, and ways we can continue to enhance our networks with #bossladies. My favorite takeaways from the discussion are recapped below, and you can check out the live panel video discussion below.

Is there such a thing as “too late” to break into the technology industry?

After doing a round of introductions and sharing backgrounds, it was immediately apparent that there is no one-size-fits-all for a successful career in technology. 

Eva comes from a more traditional finance background and found her way to compliance by way of risk management. In contrast, Rachel comes from a library sciences background and stumbled into technology via the products she used in grad school, eventually adding compliance requirements to her day job. Needless to say, neither of them could’ve predicted their careers would have brought them to this precise intersection, but both are grateful it somehow did.

While many end up in technology-related lines of business (it is 2023, after all), it’s always inspiring to see how individuals have changed entire career paths at a seeming drop of the hat. But, it hasn’t always been that simple, and certainly hasn’t been easy.  

Quantitative versus qualitative: The power in numbers

Unfortunately, women being perceived as overly emotional is a tale as old as time. But what some interpret as ‘emotional’ is, in fact, a deeper understanding and connection to their emotions (aka emotional intelligence.) So, what happens when a woman uses that emotional intelligence and pairs it with data-driven information? 

“Coming from a liberal arts background and working in support [when you’re at a startup] you realize there’s the support side, the people side, and then there are the engineers. And the Engineers hold a lot of the power to change things and get things done. So I had to learn very early on how to take my qualitative feedback and turn it into something more quantitative. And so through my career, I got good at telling stories through data” says Rachel. 

Using a quantitative lens gave Rachel an advantage when advocating for projects, and even more so, herself. “Women aren’t especially good at promoting themselves. So it’s much easier to take the emotion out of it and just show the raw data”. 

Breaking the ice (before breaking the glass ceiling) 

Strong women inspire and mold other strong women. But behind every strong woman is a long line of women before her that faced challenges and adversity that got them to where they are. 

Early in Eva’s financial leadership days women were greatly outnumbered.  “One way [I overcame this] was with support from other women… we focused on really supporting one another, really encouraging one another, and speaking up for the other person”. 

She also pointed out that the support and sponsorship she had from her male counterparts were invaluable. “They believed in me; they understood the value and what I was delivering to the organization.” 

Speaking from my experience, I’ve found that a strong network of both female and male co-workers has been the secret sauce in my professional advancement. The opportunities and representation from my sponsors at critical times have allowed my hard work and commitment to shine. Continuing to pay that moving forward, I’ve watched fellow women around me further within the organization as well.

It’s not easy to advocate for yourself. But we get by with a little help from our friends.

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Start ‘em young

Exposure at a young age is critical. But entering into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) doesn’t always need to equate to becoming an engineer. And that’s perfectly OK!

According to Eva, “I think there’s still a fear that women feel like they have to be very, very technical, and know all of the details to go into tech. You can learn those along the way, but there’s some fear even in early schooling now. And so that has to change early on to get girls to not be afraid of it, to not feel like it is a daunting thing, that they can have a tech career and not necessarily an engineering career” 

In the last decade, we’ve seen an increase in opportunities around communities promoting STEM activities and workshops, especially for kids. This exposure is critical for opening minds and cultivating passions across a variety of STEM disciplines. It also helps lay the groundwork for connecting with the community and the people within it.

“I’ve always found that my career has been built based on just following my passions and connecting with people I know,” says Rachel about leveraging her community and extensive network to continue building her career. Without that, one may not know what opportunities are available and worth pursuing. 

Rachel and Eva both closed out the point with the same thought—the combination of exposure and mentorship have proven time and time again to be key differentiators in their career trajectory. We need to continue seeking out opportunities to build community and networking opportunities as female leaders in STEM for future generations. 

Balance is key

It’s no secret that the pandemic opened our eyes to a different way of living and working—something I refer to as work-life integration (not balance!) The improved quality of life at work has encouraged women to continue working longer, so long as the correct support is in place to do so.

“When you’re working from home, you can work as work flows in, and you can do it all because if you need to go on a field trip or throw in a load of laundry, you can,” Rachel says of the newfound flexibility in her workday. However, it comes with challenges of its own, including setting up boundaries for yourself and your work. 

“We integrate work with our life, and we tell ourselves it’s okay to stop in the middle of the day if there aren’t emails in your inbox, or it’s okay to go on that field trip. Give yourself a break.”

A world where a woman can care for herself, her dependents, and her work all at once? Sign me up!

Strong women supporting strong women

I couldn’t help but feel encouraged following the conversation with Rachel and Eva. After sharing their insights—past, present, and future—I am hopeful, fired up, and inspired. There is still so much work to be done. 

Thanks to leading ladies like Eva and Rachel, the foundation has been set for aspiring leaders such as myself, Still, it’s our job as the next generation of female leaders in technology to put the roof on the house for the future. Each of us represents another critical piece of the next generation’s success.

So, continue to get involved, continue to offer support, and continue to advocate for women in technology everywhere. Some of my favorite resources here in New York City to get involved in are:

I encourage you to seek out resources within your community, wherever you are so that you can leave your mark as well! 

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