Top 5 Tips For Advancing Your Career as a Great Woman in Compliance

Posted by Mary Shirley on August 22, 2023 in Mary Shirley,

Fast Company recently shared some disappointing findings about multiple things that are still holding women back in the workplace that make for sobering reading.  Perhaps the most disappointing aspect for me, was the fact that many of the identified “issues” are things that an individual cannot change about themselves, even assuming they wanted to.

It seems that there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to breaking the glass ceiling and achieving a level playing field.  However that should not hold us back from working on the things that we do have control over and that is the focus of this blog post.

Over the last four and a half years I have interviewed nearly 100 women for the Great Women in Compliance Podcast.  This unique opportunity has given me much insight about some of the commonalities of those who are successful in the field and advice for how to be better Compliance Officers.  Here are the top five observations I’ve made during this time that will help you grow as a person and professional.

1. It’s not enough to just seize opportunities – sometimes you have to knock on doors for them

One of the most frustrating realities in all angles of life, is that sometimes the timing just doesn’t work out.  Sometimes options present themselves to us, we see them as being incredible opportunities that could be life changing, but for whatever reason, the timing just doesn’t work.  And it’s soul crushing when something glorious is just out of reach.  Or sometimes the right opportunities are not heading your way no matter how much you are looking out and waiting for them.  To better the odds being in your favor, go out on a limb and actively seek out opportunities when the timing is right for you to make a change for something better.  Knock on some doors, have some conversations and let people know what you’re looking for.  It is amazing how much even complete strangers will do for you if you share your dreams and vision.  When it comes to role models and life changing sponsors in relation to this point, I want to shout out Lisa Estrada Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel at Scion Health and Sulaiman Qazi Senior Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer at Seagen – you are both amazing human beings, I am grateful and proud to know you.

2. Your work won’t always speak for itself – advocate for yourself with self promotion and cultivating your personal brand

Mel Stanley, a personal branding coach for women covers a lot of the challenges we face about self promotion – it seems a bit icky but there are ways to positively put your best foot forward without shouting “Look at me, I won this award, I’m so great”.  Try sharing knowledge such as posting on LinkedIn about industry or professional development tips in a great article, (this one could do!) and shouting out other people and their achievements. These are ways in which you can shine without being concerned about coming across as conceited.

3. Send the elevator back down – remember to lift as you climb.  

Following on from the last point, one of the clearest, most consistent threads I have identified in Great Women in Compliance, has been the willingness of esteemed women to pay it forward and help others.  

These are very busy executives and if they can find time in their schedules, so can the rest of us mere mortals.

Lifting as you climb often starts out as being a way in which you give back to the community.  And what always happens as an ancillary result of this, is that you end up being gifted with learning new things, fulfilment and satisfaction in return.  It is win-win!

4. A candle is not dimmed by lighting another candle – celebrate other women and their successes

Competitiveness is prevalent in our lives, inside and outside of the workplace. (source:  It can be particularly tempting to compare ourselves to our peers, even sub-consciously.  I think focusing on others can be damaging and is not in the spirit of being a Great Woman in Compliance.

Try to focus instead on remembering that when one of our boats rise, all of our boats rise.  Competitiveness can be part of human nature, but try to stay cognizant of instances of comparing yourself to others and wanting to outdo others does you more harm than good.

5. Follow thought leaders, commentary and updates

It’s a false economy to think you are very busy and therefore should be spending all of your time on your to do-list at work.  The most successful people in Compliance make time to review not just government guidance and updates, but commentary and analysis of that information by others in the field.  It will help you to better understand how to do your job more effectively and give you inspiration and ideas to implement in your own program without you having to come up with them yourself.  Relatedly, make an effort to network with others.  It need not be in person – send notes to someone whose ideas you have used, a speaker who presented timely information or the author of an article about how their writing impacted your or your Compliance program.  Building relationships and rapport comes in many different forms – choose the one that feels most comfortable and authentic to you.

Thank you to all of the great women in Compliance for your extensive contributions to the field and to all the great gentlemen in Compliance who are allies; supporting and advocating for the advancement of women – we couldn’t do it without you, much appreciated.

About Mary Shirley

About Mary Shirley

Mary Shirley is a New Zealand-qualified lawyer with 18 years of ethics and compliance experience that includes working for data privacy and antitrust regulators, in-house and private practice/consultancy across five countries and four regions of the world. Most recently she was global Head of Culture of Integrity and Compliance Education at Fresenius Medical Care, assisting the company with an FCPA monitorship, serving both the legal and compliance departments.

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