Oprah Winfrey, an iconic businesswoman who in 2003 became the first Black female U.S. billionaire, once said, “The more you celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

What better day than March 8, International Women’s Day, to celebrate women in compliance? What better day to express gratitude and appreciation and reflect on all that women contribute not just to the compliance profession, but the business world at large? What better day to recognize that women in compliance matter, that women in business matter, and that the unique perspectives they bring matter? So, with a virtual cake and the popping of a champagne bottle, here is to all women in the compliance profession. We celebrate you, and we cheer you!

In honor of International Women’s Day, Compliance Week caught up with several chief compliance officers (CCOs) who spoke in their own words about the mentors in their lives; the importance of serving as mentors themselves; how they’ve turned challenges into opportunities; and how they’re currently managing work-life priorities in these unprecedented times.

“Having relatable role models and understanding their stories is such an important part of encouraging and helping women to progress. Equally, I am often inspired by the creativity, resilience, and vision of those women in compliance whom I mentor myself.”

Bernadine Reese, Managing Director, Protiviti

“As we celebrate International Women’s Day and the theme of ‘Choose to Challenge,’ I have reflected on how challenges have supported my growth and success by creating opportunity and giving me perspective,” says Jacqueline Angell, CCO at financial services company State Street. “The most important learning in my career was done when I was challenged, struggled, and even failed. Through these experiences, I was given the opportunity to gain self-awareness and see the areas that I needed to work on.”

“It is a person’s strengths and talents that get them job that they have, but it is overcoming challenges that will get them the next job or a higher level of satisfaction in the role that they currently have,” Angell says. “Whether the challenge comes in the form of a work assignment or living through a pandemic, the opportunity to push past your boundaries and achieve something new is ever-present.”

Many of the compliance officers we spoke with credited mentors in their lives, both men and women, for helping them overcome personal challenges and advance in their careers, having gleaned valuable words of advice from each role model. “I think it is very important that you have many different mentors because they each bring their own perspective and experiences,” says Global Widget CCO Margaret Richardson.

Cherry Creek Mortgage CCO Tara Healy says she would not have made the lateral career move to compliance had it not been for a manager’s sound advice she received early on in her career, when Healy was looking to move into a managerial role. Healy says that, while her manager wanted to help her move up, she could not, because there weren’t any openings in that department at the time.

Her manager, however, gave her some advicen that would change the course of Healy’s career forever. She said, “ ‘Tara, sometimes you have to step aside to move up,’ ” Healy says. If you hit a ceiling, sometimes moving horizontally is the only way to move laterally. Thus, she advised, “ ‘Think about the things you like to do and look to where other opportunities are in the company that might give you the ability to move up.’ ”

Healy ultimately found the perfect fit internally in that company’s compliance department before joining Cherry Creek Mortgage in 2016 and being promoted to CCO in January of this year. She also holds the title of being the youngest female president of the Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association (something she humbly did not mention).

Bernadine Reese, a managing director within Protiviti’s risk and compliance team in London, shares a similar experience about moving into the compliance profession. “Early in my career in financial services, I gravitated towards compliance because I could see the career paths that other inspirational women in compliance had followed to get to leadership roles. I have benefitted enormously from their mentorship, guidance, and sponsorship throughout my own career,” she says.

There is no shortage of stories of men being mentors as well. Candy Lawson, senior vice president, chief compliance officer, and senior deputy general counsel at Comcast, says two of her “biggest supporters in work and life” were two senior male partners in the global law firm where she used to work. “One of those mentors gave me the best career advice I’ve received. He told me, ‘You have to show up to move up.’ In his experience, he saw some women put their heads down and do great work, believing that work will be recognized and rewarded but wait to be approached with new projects or promotions, whereas some men proactively stepped forward with confidence, although they may not yet have fully demonstrated the requisite skills or experience. That mentor told me to show up and to always act as if I belong in the room … because I do.”

It’s important to always keep your eyes and ears open, as inspiration can strike from any direction. “I’d like to say that I was always destined for this profession, but the truth is that I thought I wanted a career in law and ended up in compliance after a very early midlife crisis,” says Courtney Barton, CCO at Arcutis Biotherapeutics. Barton says that’s when a neighbor introduced her to “some of the most extraordinary mentors I have ever had the privilege of working with,” resulting in the “life-changing experience of one of those mentors offering me a job.”

“The key is to keep growing and learning

Nancy Grygiel, chief compliance officer at biopharmaceutical company Amgen, offered these words of wisdom for others looking to advance in the compliance profession:

  • A career is a climbing wall, not necessarily a ladder. Your career path is not necessarily a straight line, much like a climbing wall. Sometimes you need to go sideways to make progress. The key is to keep growing and learning.
  • Own your ambition and taking risks. Once you realize your leadership potential, seek out stretch assignments—learning on the job; pursuing another academic degree later in your career; learning about the business you support; and learning from your peers, management, and your network.
  • Be comfortable with the unknown. Comfort is not knowing everything that is ahead of you and having enough breadth of experience and processing capability to be able to adapt and move forward.
  • Be humble and stay hungry. When your passion for something overcomes your fear of failure, then you know you are hungry. Don’t lose your head; confidence is critical, but overconfidence is a killer.

Grygiel further offered the following words of advice on balancing work-life priorities:

  • Engage in self-care. It’s OK to take a pause for a few moments or go for a walk. Your mental health is paramount.
  • To the extent possible, stay organized. It may help to create more calm in your surroundings.
  • Prioritize your work and home lives. Adjust the prioritization each day.
  • Be vocal and transparent about your needs. Now more than ever, companies and managers may offer options like flexible schedules and telecommuting.
  • Put things into perspective. Ask yourself, “Will this still be important one year from now?”
  • Know you are a competent and confident professional and person. You have unique and important abilities to contribute.

“Having relatable role models and understanding their stories is such an important part of encouraging and helping women to progress,” Reese adds. “Equally, I am often inspired by the creativity, resilience, and vision of those women in compliance whom I mentor myself.”

Whirlpool CCO Tanya Jaeger de Foras highlights the overall inspirational role women play: “Time and again, I have seen women help others to speak up and be heard. I believe that with those skills, and by bringing their own clear voices and experiences to the table, women can be great transformational leaders.”

Passing the torch

The female CCOs we spoke with also talked about the importance of serving as mentors themselves. “What I keep in the back of my mind is making sure I’m lifting up other women, because someone has paved the way for me, and so I have a duty to pave the way for others,” Healy says.

Jennifer Aguiar, who in February was appointed CCO of digital sports entertainment and gaming company DraftKings, similarly acknowledged the importance of her role. “In this leadership role, I will be representing the many women across DraftKings on the company’s executive team, so I look forward to bringing new ideas to further promote DraftKings’ efforts in inclusion, equity, and belonging while also demonstrating to other women at DraftKings, and in the industry, that not only is their voice important, it’s essential,” she says.

“Earlier in my career, I adopted a ‘fake-it-until-you-make-it’ strategy,” Jaeger de Foras says. “With experience and greater confidence, as well as a sense of responsibility to use my position as a leader to help other women, I never pretend. I am who I am—a professional, a leader, a teammate, and a woman. I am also responsible to make other women and everyone at the table with me feel welcomed, respected, comfortable, confident, and heard.”

In the spirit of mentoring, many of the CCOs offered tips for other women looking to advance in compliance. “Get yourself educated,” Healy advises. “Join different groups. Participate in trade associations.”

Healy adds she also has “a core group of ladies in compliance that I speak to at least several times a month,” sometimes just to have as a sounding board, she says. “Those people will help build you up, as well as help improve your knowledge.”

“I maintain a ‘personal board of advisors’ with friends, family, and colleagues whose experiences, knowledge, values, and judgment I love, respect, and admire,” Jaeger de Foras says. “I have also participated in more formal mentoring programs over the years in a professional setting.” These experiences are all about asking questions about their experiences and views, listening to understand, being open to feedback, and “sometimes just needing a ‘safe’ place to explore ideas without judgment,” she says.

Work-life balance

Whether you have young children, college-aged children, or no children at all, managing work-life priorities is difficult for everyone right now. For most people, it’s still a work in progress, with no right or wrong way to go about it.

“In confronting the multidimensional challenge that is life, I try to approach each day with a clear understanding of my ‘North Star,’” Jaeger de Foras says. “I apply that direction and those values and priorities to any decision I make, including asking myself, ‘What choice will I be happier with in the future?’ ”

For anyone managing work-life priorities right now, the answer to that question can apply to any number of scenarios. “The key is never to second guess,” Jaeger de Foras says. “Own the choice with no regrets.”

Those with children at home that are also working from home know how difficult a balancing act that can be, especially when having to wear multiple hats as parent, teacher, spouse, and employee. “I had to convert my dining room into my office. At one end of the dining room table, my daughter would do her schoolwork, and at the other end, I did my work,” Healy, who has an 11-year-old at home, says.

While it took a couple of weeks to adjust, she says, “I got to a point where I knew not to schedule meetings on certain days so I could help my daughter with her schoolwork.” Healy says they’d make things fun, like setting up a Nerf basketball hoop in the living room or going for a walk during lunch, “just to have that mental reset.”

Healy says it’s about “creating boundaries and creating personal time for yourself,” such as making a conscious decision to not always be in back-to-back meetings, scheduling time to take a lunch break, and shutting down the computer during the evening to spend quality time with family. “I rarely work weekends,” she says.

Others expressed similar challenges. “I have not always been good about work-life balance, but I have learned that I am a better employee if I have time away from work to relax and enjoy activities that are not work related,” Richardson says.

But times of tragedy also sometimes surface blessings. “I’m a mom who has traveled extensively—basically every week—for most of my children’s lives … until COVID. I have now been home for the first time in my daughters’ lives for a full year,” Barton says. “It has been a profound learning and adjustment experience for my family. I am exceedingly grateful for every minute, and the pandemic has undoubtedly changed my perspective going forward.”

Helene Glotzer, CCO at Bridgewater Associates, perfectly sums things up in this way: “When my kids were younger, the biggest lesson I learned was that no one was going to protect my priorities and boundaries better than me. I also learned that one can’t worry about achieving balance each day or week.” Some days work will be busier and more stressful than other days, and you just have to remember during those crazier times, she says, that “this too shall pass.”