A leadership panel on "Challenges, Opportunities, and the Path to Success" opened the final day of The IIA's 2019 International Conference in Anaheim, Calif. Panelists included Theresa Grafenstine, managing director and chief auditor, Information Security & Continuity of Business, at Citi; Kiko Harvey, inspector general, United Nations World Food Programme (Italy); and Jenitha John, chief audit executive, FirstRand Ltd. (South Africa).
Each panelist talked about her background and what led her to become an internal auditor. Ultimately, it was a passion for all of them.
Asked by moderator Scott Bloom how internal audit can help organizations and executives prepare for technological advances and risks, Grafenstine said auditors need to look at the technology and ask questions. "Our biggest gift is that we're critical thinkers and we break things down into critical controls," she explained. "Who has control over this algorithm? What can it do? What if it goes wrong? Can we stop it?" When approaching cyber risk, asking basic control questions can go a long way, she added.
The discussion then turned to building an audit function and the competencies that would make it a high-performing department. "I ask a lot of questions about team building, and I expect technical skills to be there," Harvey said.
She added that she looks for the abilities to listen, think critically, and see and solve problems, as well as how engaged auditors will be. "We feed the world's starving, so is that their passion?" Harvey asked. "Are they joining my team for the right reason? Do they want to make things better or are they there for the benefits?"
On the topic of skills internal auditors need to evolve with the business, John said auditors must stay attuned to the evolving risk landscape. "Many organizations experience changes in digital, data, customers, competition, conduct, compliance, and cyber," she said. It's important for internal auditing to transform as a profession, refresh its methodologies, and use hindsight and foresight. She says auditors also need to be agile and nimble, harness innovation, and foster a creative mindset.
Grafenstine detailed how audit leaders can be more influential in educating boards and gaining their trust. As a former inspector general for the U.S. House of Representatives, "I had to translate things into terms that were meaningful for them," she said. "In working with politicians, what became clear was that I needed to package my message for who was listening to it. I needed to make sure the person listening understood what I was saying and what I was asking them to do." Whether it is verbal conversations or written reports, Grafenstine says auditors need to keep their audience in mind.
As female leaders, each woman touched on the challenges they've faced in their careers. John explained that women tend to experience a lot of guilt about working so much, but she's found that organizations are becoming more flexible. She said people should be managed by outputs, not by time, and encouraged women to "be selfish with your time, prioritize your personal life." Leveraging technology also allows women to be present in many forms, she noted.
Grafenstine recalled that her time as one of the first three female auditors hired in the field office for inspector general was a growth opportunity. "In the tech area, instead of focusing on being the only female, think, 'I am a professional and bring a different perspective to the table,'" she advised.
Grafenstine also admitted that her biggest challenge was herself. Her glass ceiling was fear. "I always felt like I didn't belong," she said. "Until I tackled that, I was going to hold myself back. Whatever you're afraid of, you need to tackle it. Once you attack that, you can be a leader."
Harvey noted that she's always felt welcome in her working situations, but she said she missed a lot of family and school events because she made that choice. "In my generation, I felt that I had to be present at work or people would say 'we can't rely on her because she has young children,'" Harvey said.
Harvey said she took bold moves by moving her family around for her career, although it was difficult on her children and her. "Organizations are becoming much better at this and there's no excuse anymore," she said. "It's easier now than it was before."