Empowering women in the field of ethics and compliance

June 29, 2021 | Nahla Davies

This blog was written by an independent guest blogger.

Ethics and compliance is becoming a burgeoning industry as an increase in government regulations in areas such as sustainability, diversity, and data privacy make compliance an important focus for companies. It’s especially important in tech companies as the ever-growing risk of cybersecurity breaches requires that security teams be vigilant in protecting sensitive data. Any breach of regulations can result in legal headaches and customer distrust, making a solid compliance department a wise investment in any business. 

Ethics is another vital concern for companies who want to cultivate and maintain a positive public image. Corporations want their clients to see that they are doing the right thing, regardless of what the law dictates. As people increasingly look to their favorite brands to express support for social justice causes, ensuring that a company is on the right side of important public issues can be empowering as well as lucrative.

In this growing industry, many women have made their mark, influencing global corporations and guiding them in their approaches towards ethics and compliance. Let’s dig into the increasing importance of ethics and compliance in tech and some opportunities for inclusion and gender equality in this growing field. 

Critical compliance

With the host of laws and regulations in various industries, such as HIPAA in the healthcare industry or state-by-state privacy laws in tech, compliance can be a very complex and daunting field. It is crucial in any business, and particularly in tech, but sometimes the field does not get the recognition it deserves. 

What’s more, the tech industry has a well-known reputation for being dominated by men, and women techies often don’t get the recognition they deserve either. In the fintech industry for example, on average only 37% of the workforce is female, with a mere 19% holding C-Suite positions. In such male-dominated fields, it’s important to celebrate the accomplishments of women and focus on ways to get more women involved in the industry. 

Ethics and compliance is one area where we are seeing more women breaking into the industry. This field is booming as technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) make their way into almost every aspect of our personal and professional lives. 

For example, the rapidly growing popularity of IoT devices can result in tech companies rushing production of new technology, sometimes at the expense of adequate cybersecurity. It was formerly common for vulnerabilities to remain undiscovered until their use was widespread, leaving users and companies exposed to cyber threats. Companies sometimes downplayed these issues to avoid affecting sales, and the ethics and compliance field is trying to turn this around.

This issue led to the passing of the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020, which established rules regarding the cybersecurity of the software used by the American government. While the regulations only affected companies with contracts with the federal government, their purchasing power was large enough that it became a governing standard for the tech industry. 

Such regulations are particularly important in industries that handle financial data like the payment card industry. But even with regulations such as PCI compliance, prioritizing cybersecurity throughout the lifecycle of software development and preventing misuse of personal data can be a more difficult cultural change within organizations. Like efforts towards diversity, protecting customers and employees should be top priority as companies seek to gain and maintain trust.

Elevating ethics

While the field of compliance refers to specific laws and regulations and holds companies accountable to them, ethics is a bit less straightforward. Ethics defines the way companies approach business regardless of what the law dictates. This also means it is a good field to leverage when adapting an organization’s corporate culture to be more modern and inclusive.

Women in ethics have made great contributions to their corporate cultures and the tech industry. It has long been recognized that diverse teams show greater potential for innovation because of diversity of backgrounds and experiences. In the field of ethics and compliance, everything from safety measures in IoT devices to restrictions in selling personal data have been championed by ethics and compliance professionals doing what is right regardless of profit. 

Ethics within a corporate culture is important because it enhances both customer and employee satisfaction. It isn’t hard to believe customers will trust ethical companies over unethical ones. They want to see that the businesses they support are doing good in the world rather than just obeying the law. Ethics in tech allows companies to highlight their values as a business and encourage others to join them in privacy, sustainability, and diversity. 

For example, AT&T recently announced that they met their goal to hire 20,000 veterans by 2020 ahead of schedule. These kinds of decisions not only help customers trust a brand but also foster a values-driven corporate culture that benefits everyone within the company. We would like to see more and more similar initiatives to continue to involve women in compliance specifically, and tech in general. 

Shortages of women in tech have inspired the formation of many ethics and compliance professional organizations geared towards women. These organizations have supported and empowered females in their careers and have become champions of gender equality, amplifying the voices of women in this realm and sharing their stories. 

Opportunities for advancement

Women have long battled discrimination across all industries by organizing to express support and pool resources for one another, and the compliance field is no different. This has led to the creation of many professional clubs in the industry, some of them at the international level.

For example, Women in Ethics and Compliance Global (WEC Global) has established an international presence for women in the industry. Promising an inclusive experience, members of this organization gain access to a “private online community, personal one-to-one introductions, mentorship programs, writing opportunities, and exclusive events hosted by WEC Global and our members.”

Another global initiative called Risky Women brings women from risk management, ethics, and compliance together to empower their career development and highlight their tech contributions. The organization notes that there will be no slow down in the evolution of risk and compliance as a critical need and as a field, so there is no room for industry professionals to slow down either. 

There is also a need for regional organizations that can focus on legal and ethical issues that are specific to certain areas. The Women in Ethics and Compliance in Africa (WECA) network, for example, is an initiative for female executives and management leading the fight against corruption and non-compliance in business. Legal compliance and ethical practices are especially important in some developing countries, where bribery and nepotism are commonplace. 

Overall, with cyber fraud and data breaches on the rise, responding to and preventing cyber attacks is more critical now than ever. As cybersecurity expert Ludovic Rembert of Privacy Canada notes, using proven security measures such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when you are connected to a public network should no longer be considered an option but now an absolute necessity for everyday people. However, he advises that you be very strategic about the VPN that you choose by focusing closely on the privacy policy of your provider of choice.

“Given that the main use of a VPN is to provide a secure connection, you must look for a reputable VPN provider with its privacy policy displayed on the site, explaining if it logs data or traffic and how long it is kept for,” says Rembert. “Trustworthy VPN providers will always disclose their log policies on the website, even if it isn’t immediately obvious. So if you ever come across a provider that isn’t transparent about its privacy policies, chances are they don’t take privacy seriously and you should avoid them at all costs.”

Dedicated ethics and compliance professionals will always be needed in order to ensure customer safety when using technology such as VPNs, and this offers great opportunities to get underrepresented minorities more involved in this ever-growing field. Women, persons of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and other underrepresented groups can get their start in ethics and compliance so the tech industry can continue to grow and diversify.  

Conclusion

Ethics and Compliance will continue to be a growing field and a promising choice for many up-and-coming tech professionals. It’s also proven to be a valuable gateway for women into otherwise male-dominated industries. 

Women in ethics and compliance have proven that they have unique contributions to make to the corporate culture of their companies as well as the tech field at large. With continued efforts to empower women in tech, the industry can continue to diversify and thrive  and rise to the occasion to battle the next generation of sophisticated cyber threats.

Nahla Davies

About the Author: Nahla Davies

Nahla Davies is a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full time to technical writing, she managed – among other intriguing things – to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony.

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