Women in the Anti-Fraud Profession


Courtney Babin
ACFE Communications Coordinator

A new session debuted at the 26th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference in Baltimore that discussed an important niche within the anti-fraud community: women. This session, a women’s panel, broached topics that many women face in the anti-fraud industry, from leadership positions to juggling family life. In the latest Fraud Talk podcast, Liseli Pennings, CFE, Deputy Training Director for the ACFE, and Andi McNeal, CFE, Research Director for the ACFE, share their experiences and the struggles women might face as they begin the steps to building a career.

Intuitive intelligence, ability to multi-task under stress and attention to detail are just some of the many qualities women possess that will help them excel in the anti-fraud profession. However, Pennings and McNeal addressed some of the hurdles women must tackle in order to use these skills to the best of their abilities.

“I did, at times, feel some disadvantages because I always worked in a male-dominated field,” says Pennings. “I sometimes felt that I was treated differently.” Pennings, who has worked as a U.S. Special Agent and as a Law Enforcement Attaché, realized that it wasn’t her problem if someone had an issue that she was a woman in a male-dominated field — instead, it was theirs. “I kind of used it to my advantage to build upon myself and perfect the things that I wanted to do and focus on myself as a professional,” says Pennings.

Pennings and McNeal also discussed entering the profession as a young woman and how that can lead to feeling intimidated. “I remember, early on, starting out feeling extremely intimidated. Not necessarily by the specific individuals that I worked with but just because I was working with people that knew so much more than I did,” says McNeal. “For me personally, that’s going to be the situation that makes me feel the least confident.” McNeal found confidence in her early career by making it clear that she wanted to learn more. Expressing the desire to learn and displaying the confidence to admit, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out,’ shows peers that you take your job seriously.

The importance of ‘faking it till you make it’ was a heavy topic of discussion in the women’s panel and in the Fraud Talk podcast. “I think projecting an image of confidence, even if you aren’t confident, is important,” says Pennings. When working in a male-dominated field, a little confidence can go a long way. Whether you are an established woman in the higher echelons of your workplace or a young woman just beginning her career, confidence can get you to where you need to be.

As closing advice for professional women, Pennings and McNeal have powerful words of wisdom. Give yourself credit; don’t short-change yourself. Fake it until you make it with confidence, but in the end, believe you can get there. “Don’t worry too much about what other people think,” says Pennings. “I think we tend, especially when we are young females, to focus a lot on what other people think as opposed to what we want to accomplish.”

To hear the full podcast, visit ACFE.com/podcast.