For the second day of our week long International Women's Day celebrations we spoke with Nicola Simpson, Group Compliance and Audit Manager based out of our Winchester office.
What is your current role?
I am one of the Group Compliance and Audit Managers.
What is your professional background?
I have various qualifications and experience (too many years to mention!) in compliance, audit, quality assurance management and managing ISO standards in heavily regulated environments including financial services, education and training.
In previous roles working for an investment company and exam board, I have managed various teams in the world of compliance, including internal audit, business assurance, ISO certifications and exam fraud. The most interesting times were during exam season when exam papers were leaked or there were reports of cheating, my team would have to investigate or even do unannounced visits to schools or colleges to check their premises for evidence of the leak. I also have some teaching/training qualifications and am qualified to verify/moderate various NVQ/apprenticeship qualifications. I was on a board of school governors for a number of years which involved contributing to setting the strategy for the school, writing policies, and analysing statistics to hold the teachers to account for the performance of the school.
So, anything that involves setting standards, making rules or policies, checking that they are being followed and finding ways to close any gaps or make improvements is what I do!
When growing up, I was always the one to follow the rules, rather than break them so no surprise that I ended up in Compliance (someone’s got to do it!).
What does your role entail?
Together with my colleague, I manage all compliance matters for the OASIS Group, this includes ensuring that OASIS is compliant with relevant laws such as health and safety and GDPR. We also look after business continuity, which involves making sure we are prepared to deal with any incidents that could disrupt our business or prevent us from operating, the most topical is preparing for any possible impacts of the coronavirus. We also deal with any breaches of information security or procedures. We carry out internal audits to ensure that business units are adhering to procedures, and other requirements such as ISO standards. We support clients and Team Members with their compliance queries and are on hand to support account managers with client audits. We also ensure that our certifications, such as ISO, are kept up to date and renewed. So, no day is the same and we certainly don’t get bored!
What has been the single most significant development to impact your profession or area of business during your career and why?
Taking the plunge to apply for my first senior management role when I knew that the other candidates had more experience. I had faith in my skills and knowledge and believed that by learning on the job, the experience would follow. It paid off and I got the job and that opened up other doors for me. There is nothing like jumping in at the deep end – you will either sink or swim. Thankfully I had my armbands on, and I am a fast learner. It’s amazing what you can achieve, if you believe in yourself, work hard and stay determined. I never looked back after that.
What are the current challenges for women in your profession?
There are not enough women in senior leadership roles in and outside of the boardroom. The hardest challenge is breaking down the gender stereotypes and subliminal bias that exists. I don’t believe in introducing a law for specifying a national quota for female posts in the boardroom, this just perpetuates the idea that women are not equal and need concessions. We need to get there on our own merit which involves challenging these biases and stereotypes through our actions, being brave enough and confident to speak up when we are in the minority and daring to tread into the unfamiliar. Organisations also have a role to play in promoting an inclusive and diverse culture where opportunities are available regardless of gender. At OASIS we are lucky to be working in such a diverse community and I know that we actively monitor our gender gap and look for ways to close this.
Do you think there is a lack of women in our industry? If so, why?
Most definitely. I think this is caused by society and gender stereotypes and what roles are and aren’t acceptable or accessible for women. I know that this is changing in the world of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, but society still has a long way to go, and especially in our industry. Education and organisational development are the key to this.
What does ‘Collective Individualism’ mean to you? Either in general or when thinking about OASIS Group.
In OASIS, this means to me that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So, individuals are stronger and more powerful when they come together. As a team we can achieve great things. But that doesn’t mean that we should be clones or lose our individuality. We each have our strengths and weaknesses and we need to play to these and give each other space to voice our opinions respectfully and allow other to give healthy challenge when something is not right or when something needs to be improved, ultimately this makes us stronger and breeds a culture of openness and creativity.
Is there anyone (male or female) that inspires you in your career?
I am always inspired by women who are successful against the odds, whether that is a woman in a male-dominated industry or through social mobility, when someone has climbed out of poverty through education. Michelle Obama is a symbol of this for me and has stayed humble despite her fame and fortune. She has come from a low-income and minority background, went to a normal school, in a diverse community and despite various obstacles proved that with hard work, anyone can transcend these obstacles and reach places that they never thought they could.
Finally, what piece of advice would you give to young women starting their careers in your profession, either within this industry or in general?
Be brave and bold! Believe in yourself and speak up when you have ideas, or something isn’t quite right. Don’t be intimidated by someone’s experience, job title, status or even gender. They might have more experience, but they are just another person at the end of the day who can learn just as much from you. Gender, social status or hierarchy are often barriers that we all need to take responsibility for knocking down.
Don't forget to check in tomorrow to see who we are speaking to next.....