Inspirational Woman: Frances McLeod | Co-Founder & US Head, Forensic Risk Alliance

Frances McLeodI am a co-founder and the US head of Forensic Risk Alliance (FRA), an international consultancy that focuses on forensic accounting and data governance.

We help clients navigate a wide range of white collar scenarios, ranging from government investigations, to responses to regulatory inquiries, to litigation. In addition to my executive role, I maintain an active practice of my own. I am deeply involved in the firm’s corporate compliance monitorship work, having recently served as a DOJ-appointed monitor myself, and I am also passionate about the data governance aspect of our work, and co-chair the firm’s Data Governance, Technology Solutions and Forensics practice. The data governance work is especially interesting because it underlies so many different conflicts of law across the globe, particularly as structured and unstructured data continues to grow exponentially each year, and countries enact duelling regulatory requirements with which multinational companies must comply. It’s a fascinating field that requires a lot of creative thinking and ingenuity, as well as cultural sensitivity and an openness to leveraging technology.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I really didn’t! I started off in in investment banking focused on M&A/corporate finance. Since I’m multilingual in French, German, and Chinese, I had the opportunity to work on a number of fascinating projects, including undertaking the Swiss bank investigations into dormant Holocaust era assets, also known as the Nazi gold investigations. It was on that project that I met my co-founding partner of FRA, Greg Mason, who was a database architect and programmer. While my background was in banking, the project required an investigative mind-set, and I discovered that I was really good at it. As we worked together over those two-and-a-half years, we saw how well my talents as an investigator and his as a data analyst/database programmer worked in concert to create a unique and valuable offering. When the project drew to a close and we were thinking about next steps, we brought aboard my brother, Toby Duthie, who added significant financial modelling skills, as well as an understanding of financial structures, and from there FRA was born. Our approach has always been different from our competitors in that we marry data governance, data analytics, and forensic accounting, and are constantly evolving our offerings to provide end-to-end solutions and meet the increasingly complex demands for clients facing a range of white collar and regulatory compliance challenges.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

As a woman in investment banking in the late 1980s, I was one of four women out of 150 bankers in our department. It was pretty stark, statistically speaking, and I was very good at just soldiering on—it certainly helps you toughen up! At the time, it was more a question of ignoring that you were a woman and—if not be like the men—play with the men. Thankfully, this has evolved over the years, and I think that women no longer need to blend in with the men. You can now stand out with your own female-centric approach and be just as, if not more, successful than the men by cultivating your own style.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

As a firm, we’ve been involved in high-profile white collar matters, including implementing claim evaluation and administration systems for the German Slave Labor Holocaust settlements; the anticorruption investigations into the UN Oil-for-Food Program; and the recent landmark Airbus settlement – all incredibly humbling and rewarding engagements.

Of personal significance, it was a huge milestone to serve as the US Department of Justice-appointed compliance monitor to a German engineering company that had been implicated in the Dieselgate emissions scandal. The appointment has enabled me to work closely with many of the up-and-coming stars from across our global team to create methodologies for testing the company’s environmental regulatory compliance and anti-fraud compliance. It was an incredibly intellectually challenging project, and—as FRA’s first environmental sanctions monitorship—demonstrated how our core offerings could be applied to a wide range of regulatory matters.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

The importance of relationship building cannot be understated. We are incredibly fortunate at FRA that we have built relationships with many of our clients that have lasted more than two decades. They continue to be champions for us and refer us interesting and challenging work. I think that we’ve been able to build these strong ties because we are so committed to client service—really listening to our clients to understand the challenges their facing, thinking creatively about how we can leverage technology to address these challenges, and ultimately delivering the best, most efficient results. On the back end, this has meant that we have needed to constantly evolve how we’re approaching matters by adding new skills to the team and, equally importantly, developing bespoke tech solutions to respond to our clients’ growing data governance needs. Another important factor is our commitment to being technology agnostic so that we are able to partner with the best in breed providers of cutting edge technology and offer the efficiencies and benefits this brings to our clients.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Find a good mentor who will give you fair and honest feedback. I would say that's true for both men and women, but particularly in a field like technology, which historically has been so male-dominated, it has a great deal of value. When we were smaller company, I was keenly focused on informally mentoring some of the talented women that I saw coming up through the ranks, and it was wonderful to see them eventually become partners in the firm. Now that we’re a larger firm, we’re developing a more formal mentoring program and have invested in coaching, much of which is quite heavily geared towards the female high performers. I also looking to leverage my female management team to take under their wings and help mentor others at more junior levels. Having an advocate and a model for success is a fantastic way to keep our team motivated. Success breeds success, and we’re continuing to see that as we recruit more high-caliber, ambitious, bright and competent women to the firm. Networking is also incredibly important; being present, engaged and open to professional dialogue—even when it may not have a direct line to your work—often results in a positive impression that could turn into referred work down the line.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Having lived and worked all over the world, I’m acutely aware that the single most determining factor for success in the technology field is being male, and I’m passionate about ensuring that there are pathways to success for the talented women on our team. One area where I still see a lot of room for development is helping women build the confidence to speak up in meetings and to volunteer ideas. As women in technology, we need to be leading by example so that the next generation knows that their voices should be heard, that they are entitled to be heard, and that what they have to say that's interesting and valid. Unfortunately, there is still some societal pressure for women around women not speaking up, and that needs to change. One development that I think is incredibly positive is that there is a very collegiate movement among women in the tech world to help develop other women and bring them up through the ranks.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

The FRA Data Governance team is quite unique in the industry because we do have all female leadership, led by myself and my co-head Britt Endemann. We’re very focused on giving women career paths in technology, which is still such a male-dominated field. It has been a revelation to hear the excitement from clients when they discover we’re a women-led team, because they have mandates to diversify their teams.  There is huge talent out there and we need to be helping these women with strong technical skills have successful career paths in data governance. I also think it’s important to build a culture of a flexibility into the workplace, particularly taking into consideration motherhood. As a mother myself who has faced challenges balancing family and work, I'm very keen to create a supportive environment to allow women to have families if they so choose and feel secure in their professional reputation and career path. Additionally, building mentorship into career pathing creates a sense of inclusion and advocacy that increases the likelihood retaining top talent. Having women at every level of leadership gives those at more junior- to mid-levels examples of how their careers can take shape. One development that I think is incredibly positive is that there is a very collegiate movement among women in the tech world to help develop other women and bring them up through the ranks.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would love for male colleagues to understand that gender diversity is not a women-only issue. When women (and other diverse perspectives for that matter) are underrepresented, the entire business is negatively impacted—we know that diversity leads to innovation and more creative problem solving. We launched the FRA Women’s Initiative last spring with the goal of helping bolster our talented women and also help male colleagues understand the role they play in creating an inclusive culture where women can thrive and are actively engaged in supporting and empowering women. We want our entire team to be modelling inclusive behaviors, supporting flexible work policies, mentoring high-potential women, and being actively involved in conversations about how we can continue to improve in this arena.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

How to Speak Machine, by John Maeda, is one of the most compelling books I read last year, particularly because I also have a passion for design. John Maeda is a former Professor at the MIT Media Lab, a former President of the Rhode Island School of Design, and a former Design Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. As such, he has remarkably deep insights about the intersection between technology and design. He provides a framework for product designers, business leaders, and policymakers to better understand the power and the danger of advances in algorithms.

Another excellent read is The Open Organization by Red Hat CEO, Jim Whitehurst. He describes how creating an engaged and passionate workforce will result in a performance and revenue boost in both a work setting and in the greater world. He focuses on the greater community, demonstrating how building a strong collective will inevitably lead to success.

I also regularly read the WSJ Tech, which is a compelling and wide-ranging business/markets technology combination, and also MIT Technology Review—the magazine’s mission is “to bring about better-informed and more conscious decisions about technology through authoritative, influential, and trustworthy journalism.”—which intersects with the forensic accounting/compliance side of my interests

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Inspirational Woman: Britt Endemann | Partner & Co-Head of Data Governance, Technology Solutions & Forensics practice, Forensic Risk Alliance

Britt Endemann Britt is a Partner based in FRA’s London and Washington, DC offices, and is co-head of its Data Governance, Technology Solutions and Forensics practice.

She has extensive experience assisting companies with advanced technology-driven solutions and AI technologies to address corruption risks and financial crimes.

Britt travels the globe advising companies and C-suite management—particularly in the banking, financial services, telecommunications, and manufacturing sectors—on issues relating to risk mitigation, developing innovative technology solutions and defensible protocols related to cross-border investigations in Europe, the United States, Asia and the Middle East.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I started out working in the financial industry, but soon became unimpressed with the “boys’ world” that it turned out to be. I went to work for a law firm, where my background in finance meant that I was involved in reviewing financial records, and assisting with defending complaints filed against stockbrokers. Using technology-assisted review of banking data and complex financial data sources was my first real opening to the technology world.

I began working on internal investigations, particularly around technology and preparing electronic data for review and analysis. I soon realised there was a significant gap between the business’ legal and technology divisions, and there was a growing strategic need to bring them together more cohesively.

With the advent of social media, I saw more and more opportunities to combine my tech and business experience in the context of litigation matters. I ended up creating a consulting team within the firm specifically for white collar and antitrust litigation to assist lawyers and and clients navigate the various risk factors that were cropping up around the expansion of technology and the need to explain a client’s business technology infrastructure to the authorities and courts.

When Forensic Risk Alliance (FRA) approached me to spearhead its Data Governance, Technology Solutions and Forensics Practice, having the opportunity to build a truly integrated core offering that integrates equally both technology and business seemed like the perfect next step. The FRA Data Governance practice comprises a group of advisory consultants, technology solutions and an internal development team. Together, we develop our own mid-ware and consult with external clients as well as our internal forensic accountants and data analysts based around the globe.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all; I initially started in business and finance as the most direct step from my degree in business. However, I’ve always been fascinated by computer science, and as my career gradually brought me deeper into the world of tech, I soon became self-taught on aspects such as coding and infrastructure. It was this interest that led me to realise how and why the integration of technology and business is so necessary and should not be separated, leading me to my current role at FRA.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I found it initially difficult to break into the technology industry, especially with my non-traditional technology background. Because of this, I made sure to keep up-to-date with the latest in my field to ensure I didn’t fall behind. With the industry still constantly innovating, as well as being the largest growing sector in the world, I still see it as hugely important to keep up with its fast pace of change in order to stay ahead.

I’ve also found that computer science is a notoriously male-dominated field. Therefore, being a leading female professional has long been a challenge, and I’ve had particular difficulties in the past with recruiters often not putting me forward for senior leadership roles. This is something I still continue to see, and now that I am more senior, I have made it a personal priority to ensure FRA ensures gender diversity and equality in our recruiting for roles across the business.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I am most proud of building a technology-led department within a consulting firm that is headed up by two women—myself and FRA Founding Partner, Frances McLeod. To do this, we responded and adapted to the needs of the industry, bringing technology and business together. We completely overhauled our team, recruiting top talent from around the globe to ensure we had exactly the right skills in place to achieve our vision of a data governance practice that marries technology with high-end consulting.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Failing and making mistakes. Learning from every project is crucial and I’ve found that attempting to achieve perfection can quite often lead to failure. I am a believer in documenting “lessons learned” after each case. These lessons eventually translate to updated work flows and policies.

Not only that, team effort is just as important as individual achievement. I would not be where I am now without listening to the teams around me and constantly learning from others. I know that it’s much more beneficial in the long term to acknowledge when you’re wrong so that you can keep learning and moving forward.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

One of the biggest mistakes that tech people make is the assumption they are the ones that stay behind the scenes within a business. However, I would say that technology focused individuals should always make the time to learn as much as they can about their business, and how their products and services are used on a day-to-day basis. This will produce a greater understanding of the business and, as a result, they will find it much easier to excel in their technology career. To build technology solutions you have to understand the business use and the business must be involved.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Although things are starting to change, fewer than 40% of women with computer science degrees remain in technology and tend to leave the industry after 10 years. This pales into comparison with men who usually stay to work their way up. It’s clear the tech industry is truly male dominated – especially when it comes to events where men are usually keynote speakers.

However, we’re starting to see women moving more and more into senior leadership roles in tech at big companies. While this is hugely positive, it’s important that men already in the industry support the movement of women into technology-based roles.

To really overcome the barriers to success, I’d advise all women to be strong and sure of your own talent – don’t just compete simply because there are men there and don’t compare yourself to others. Rather than end up in a gender war, let your talent and skills speak for themselves.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

Firstly, recruitment agencies should ensure they are putting a 50:50 split of men and women on the table for job applications. This will mean that ultimately, companies will achieve a 50:50 split at every level of the business, which is especially important when it comes to senior management.

Secondly, companies themselves should ensure that job descriptions are written in gender neutral terms to ensure they are inclusive of everyone.

Lastly, companies should try to ensure that all colleagues are given equal opportunities to speak up and share ideas. Allowing women to be visible and present to the wider company will encourage younger team members to aspire to leadership roles.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would promote women to senior management positions to ensure an equal gender split across the board in all sectors of businesses. Because, until this happens, women won’t be attracted to certain industries, which is quite often the reputation that tech holds. We see on a regular basis that women will have the same title for many years and are disqualified for promotions due to reasons such as maternity leave. With male outsiders coming in to replace them, the gender gap gets wider and wider as people start to progress up the career ladder.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I highly recommend watching videos of Anne Wojcicki, Co-Founder and CEO for 23andMe. She is a true inspiration for all female techies and shows leadership with technology and business integration at its best; her company helps users learn about their ancestry, genealogy, and inherited traits via at-home genetics test kits and genetic mapping research. 23andMe became the first company to offer autosomal DNA testing for ancestry, becoming a pioneer in the field, and developing technology that has lead the way for every other at-home genetic testing service to come after it.

In addition to that, I always keep up to date with the latest business and tech news. My favourite sites are MIT Technology Review, Barrons and the Financial Times.

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