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OPINION: Where are all the women? Picture that paints 1,000 words – and why so much needs to be done to promote gender diversity in FinCrime

By Elizabeth Hearst for AMLi

ONE IMAGE has stuck in my mind since the FATF/Interpol pow wow in Singapore earlier this month.

There is no doubt it was a critically important dialogue that has finally put global asset seizures on the table.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and Interpol have agreed to put measures in place that will raise the pitifully low level of dirty money seizures from its current less than 1pc.

As I say this is laudable and long overdue and both organisations are to be congratulated on the initiative, agreed at the two-day conference which gathered 150 high-level experts. 

However, what struck me was this photo. It is striking on a number of levels. 

MALE DOMINATED: The staircase image from the FATF/Interpol assets summit in Singapore. If you look closely enough you will see most of the women delegates and agency employees at the very back. Photo credit: FATF

Most striking from the image, which shows representatives from Day One of the conference at the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation, is the lack of women.

Thankfully FATF Executive Secretary Violaine Clerc stands in the front row, having taken over the reins after David Lewis’ departure earlier this year. 

Yes, there is a splinkering of women delegates here and there up the stairway – but only a few. And then you reach the very back at the top of the stairs and that is where – if you look closely enough – that most of the female representatives stand.

Honestly the photograph could have been taken 50 years ago.

It certainly does not represent the world we now inhabit and the great strides made by women in leadership roles. Just look at the amazing women from banking, fintech, the regulators and law enforcement who participate two times a year at the AML Intelligence ‘WomeninFinCrime’ Summits.

I wonder what kind of message – sublimal or not – that this image sends to women in the Anti-Financial Crime (AFC) and AML sector.

After all, it is not that the sector is devoid of women. From what I can tell, women dominate the field in terms of numbers but quite simply are not represented at the leadership level.

That is why the elevation of Violaine Clerc to Executive Secretary is important.

But it will take more than that.

FATF and Interpol need to be aware of signalling – and take immediate action. Words are not enough.

For example, a simple keyword search on FATF’s site for ‘gender’ and ‘women’ draws a blank. At Interpol, they at least have established an online e-learning course on gender mainstreaming in law enforcement.

The project marks one of several initiatives introduced by international police agency to raise awareness of gender-responsive law enforcement under ‘Project Sunbird’. 

Whilst the vast majority of women included in the aforementioned image may have elected to be at the back, it still strikes me as quite an ‘own-goal’ from the global AFC watchdog and international policing body.

Female representation in the financial sector is stronger than ever, with recent research conducted by McKinsey highlighting that women make up 53% of the entry-level banking workforce in the US. 

This level plummets however to less than one-third at Senior Vice President and C-Suite levels. 

There are of course strong women leaders in the AFC and Compliance sector. Europe has Commissioner Mairead McGuinness at the helm of the EU’s new AML Action Plan, Violaine Clerc herself is in a crucial FATF position and Xolisile Khanyile now leading the charge at the Egmont Group.

In other words – they are the exception rather than the rule.

Quite simply that is not good enough anymore. It’s clear more work needs to be done to improve female representation on the ground. 

Perhaps this could be the focus of FATF’s and INTERPOL’s next joint initiative?

After all, as we have been told so often, “you can’t be it, unless you see it.”

  • The next award-winning AML Intelligence Women in FinCrime Summit takes place on November 30 next.

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