When recently retired Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight at the United Nations Secretariat Carman Lapointe became an internal auditor in 1981, she was one of few women in the profession. “The first IIA International Conference I attended was in San Francisco in the early 1980s, and there were only 100 or so women in attendance,” Lapointe recalls. Today the situation is considerably different — she sees numerous, highly qualified women successfully leading the internal audit departments of major organizations.
The advancement of women in the profession is just one of many positive changes Lapointe says she has seen over the years. The biggest transformation, she says, is the perception that others have of internal auditing. “For many years, internal auditors were seen as just bean counters, but we’ve distinguished ourselves as experts in controls for all types of risk management and governance, in addition to financial reporting controls.”
Given Lapointe’s successful career, it may come as a surprise to learn she was a reluctant recruit to the profession. She was working in accounting in Ottawa when her boss transferred over to the internal audit department and convinced her to join him. For Lapointe, that meant four years of night school and eventually pursuing IIA professional credentials: the Certified Internal Auditor and the Certification in Control Self-Assessment. Since making that decision, Lapointe says she’s never looked back.
“I became active in IIA activities early in my career, which helped build a network of helpful contacts,” Lapointe says. “When I thought I’d reached my promotion limit with a particular organization, I looked for promotional opportunities in other organizations, which helps with learning new skills in a new type of business. While I had opportunities to move out of internal auditing, I never did — I couldn’t imagine a job being more interesting or challenging.”
Lapointe also was the first woman to become The Institute’s chairman of the Board in 1994, something she says she considers an honor and a privilege. “I was scared to death at the time, but with the support of other leaders I got through it and learned a lot about myself, politics, and the process,” Lapointe says. “It prepared me for many subsequent challenges in my career.”
For those just beginning their careers in internal audit, Lapointe says working in this profession is the best way to learn a lot about any organization. “Even if beginners decide to move on after a stint in internal auditing, it’s the best way to prepare for a leadership position elsewhere.” Nevertheless, pursuing a career in internal auditing must be done professionally, so obtaining the CIA isn’t optional, she says. “Newer auditors will be surprised by how much they learn during the process that will be valuable early and later in their careers.”
Lapointe’s retirement hasn’t slowed her down. In addition to speaking engagements, she is planning to do some advisory and consulting work — such as on audit committees, quality assessment reviews, and capacity development. “This is my third ‘retirement,’ and I am hoping this one sticks a little better,” she says.