​An Eye Toward the Future

The IIA’s  2021–2022 North American Board chairperson, LAURA SOILEAU, says getting young people hooked on internal auditing is crucial to the sustainability of the profession.

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​I discovered internal auditing through an operational auditing course at the University of Arkansas. At the time, I was an accounting major, but I had come to realize I didn’t like tax work or working solely with debits and credits. This introduction to internal auditing wasn’t like my other classes — instead, it offered case studies that allowed students to evaluate risks, find ways to increase effectiveness, and identify root causes.

Like many other internal auditors, I love analyzing processes. Drop any good internal auditor into a driver’s license bureau or other typically slow-moving system, and we’re likely to start thinking: “How can I serve customers faster?” “Where are the risks?” “How can I redesign this for a better outcome?” The operational audit course got me excited about this kind of systems thinking. It was the reason I decided to pursue a master’s degree at Louisiana State University and specialize in internal auditing. I have never looked back.

The future of the internal audit profession is dependent upon the next generation being aware of all it has to offer and seeing themselves as practitioners. As the 2021–2022 chair of The IIA’s North American Board, much of my focus will be on investing in the next generation of internal auditors. I’ll be working with The IIA’s new President and CEO Anthony Pugliese to enhance and expand our student engagement strategy and be more proactive about getting in front of universities and students. This will all be part of a larger effort to grow a diverse and engaged IIA membership that includes expanding opportunities for volunteerism and helping peers connect.

ELEVATING INTERNAL AUDIT'S PROFILE AT THE COLLEGE LEVEL 

I was lucky enough to stumble on that operational audit course, but many young people in business, accounting, or data science programs are not aware of internal auditing as a profession. We need more university courses like the one I encountered initially and more programs like the one at Louisiana State University, which is an IIA Internal Auditing Education Partnership Center of Excellence program. We also need to continue fostering opportunities to connect with students. 

Some of The IIA’s chapters have connected with universities to promote internal auditing, like the mentorship program that 2020 Emerging Leader Bonnie Tse of IIA–Seattle launched with local university students. The IIA also supports chapters in presenting an annual chapter challenge to help engage students and grow them into members. We should double down on these efforts, connecting with professors and university programs, to make it clear there are jobs for future practitioners. 

To help chapters and global affiliates with outreach, The Institute has posted an Academic Relations Toolkit on TheIIA.org. In it, members can find resources for starting an academic relations plan in their area, along with best practices from other chapters. The IIA also offers grants, scholarships, awards, and events for prospective auditors, such as the Internal Audit Student Exchange. This event, hosted annually in September, is aimed at college students with experience or interest in the field.

ENCOURAGING DIVERSITY IN THE PROFESSION 

Stepping Stones to Leadership

It was at Louisiana State University (LSU), where I earned a master’s degree in accounting with a specialization in internal auditing, that I first got involved in The IIA as a student member. I enjoyed the opportunity to network and participate in chapter events. 

While at LSU, I passed the CIA exam, receiving the Student Highest Achievement Award for my performance. Passing the exam while I was still a student allowed me to start my career a step ahead. On my first day on the job, I already understood the fundamentals.

During my time at LSU, I interned at Avery Dennison, a Fortune 500 manufacturing company based in Pasadena, Calif. Following my graduation in 2001, I continued with the company, starting first as an internal auditor and moving up to senior internal auditor in 2003. The internal audit team traveled up to 80% of the time, including internationally, which gave me an opportunity to see the world. 

In 2004, the company transitioned me to a financial analyst role, which was based in Cleveland, Ohio. I quickly realized that I missed internal auditing, so after a year, I took a job with International Paper, a Fortune 100 manufacturing company based in Memphis, Tenn. This job taught me the importance of relationship-building with internal audit stakeholders and allowed me to hone my leadership skills. 

Finally, a little more than 10 years ago, my husband and I relocated to Baton Rouge, and I joined my current organization, Postlethwaite & Netterville. I started as a manager and was promoted to associate director and now director, which is a partner equivalent. I love my current job and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. 

Throughout my internal audit career, The IIA has enabled me to network and learn from peers outside my organization, contribute to and stay on top of developments in the profession, and further grow my leadership skills. I’ve participated at the chapter level, serving as the IIA–Memphis Chapter president and on the IIA–Baton Rouge Chapter Board of Governors, and at the North American committee level through the Publications Advisory Committee, where I served as a member for six years. Through this affiliation, I authored and co-authored multiple articles for Internal Auditor magazine, as well as served as a contributing editor to the magazine and on its Editorial Advisory Board. In 2017, I joined The IIA’s North American and Global boards. 

On a personal level, I spend my weekends watching my eight-year-old son play sports, and you’ll find us at many of the LSU sporting events in Baton Rouge. I also enjoy running, and my family is looking forward to the day we can resume traveling. 

To engage the next generation, we must work to change the perception of the internal audit profession as boring and the belief that internal auditors are “just accountants.” Instead, we must encourage more nontraditional paths to the profession. We need to work with universities beyond their accounting programs to help people from different disciplines and backgrounds — such as liberal arts, computer science, data analytics, and management — understand that internal auditing benefits from a diverse and inclusive pool of professionals and is a viable, fun, and exciting career. 

We know that as more teams embrace technology solutions in internal auditing, students with backgrounds in IT and data analytics will be needed. And of course, not all new auditors are straight out of college. Some move over from other departments within a company because of the skills they can bring to the audit function.

Our internal audit teams need to be diverse beyond skills and backgrounds. If one looks at the organizations internal auditors serve, they will see they are made up of diverse people. The more the internal audit department reflects the organization as a whole, the more we’re going to be able to relate to our internal audit customers and stakeholders. 

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a strategic area of focus for the North American Board, so I’m also looking forward to continuing work in this important area. Later this year, the Internal Audit Foundation, in collaboration with Deloitte, will embark on a study to explore both the importance of DEI in the audit function and how the audit function can play a pivotal role in advancing DEI enterprisewide. Ultimately, diversity can only improve our audit departments. Diversity of thought helps us communicate better, understand different points of view, and assess risk from many different angles.

UNDERSTANDING THE NEXT GENERATION OF AUDITORS 

As we welcome the next generation of internal auditors, we also have to be open to generational differences. Granted, the last year has given us all an opportunity to practice our technology skills while working remotely. But for students coming out of college now, Zoom, Teams, and other collaborative technologies are second nature.

When I need to chat, I am one of those people who will pick up the phone and call or — when we were still in an office — pop by for a quick face-to-face exchange. For some of the younger generation that I work with, they’re more likely to send me an instant message. It’s sometimes been hard for me to remember to keep our chat client on and respond, but part of being open and inclusive is not necessarily expecting everybody to adapt to my approach. We have to be willing to meet people where they are.

The next generation also could be an asset to internal audit functions as chief audit executives look to add technology competencies within their teams. There may even be opportunities for reverse mentoring, where less experienced auditors are able to teach some technical skills to more experienced teammates. Research shows that when a company encourages the exchange of ideas across generations, it improves productivity, profitability, and worker morale for all. 

Organizations are going to have to be more flexible and innovative in how they engage the younger generation — and really all of us, as that’s just good talent management. It’s going to be important to periodically get a sense from the audit team about what’s important to them — whether it’s community involvement, mentoring opportunities, or initiatives related to well-being or social interaction — and try to incorporate some of that into the team or the organization. As the pandemic has taught us, communication is critical. 

We also need to help new or prospective auditors understand what a career could look like within the organization, the different paths they could take, and how this could ultimately set them up to achieve their career goals. The more we can adapt our approach to meet their needs, the better off we’re going to be.

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS IN THE NEW NORMAL 

Most auditors new to the profession have a passion for learning and an eagerness for understanding how organizations work. But they’re coming out of school into a completely different environment than the one I walked into at my first internal audit job. The pandemic has made relationship building that much more challenging by removing those chances for small chats when riding in the elevator or running into someone in the break room. Even on the other side of the pandemic, the workplace is going to look different; there’s going to be a big emphasis on how to build relationships in this environment. For me, it’s about how I sustain and maintain my relationships, but for the new generation, they’re walking in without these relationships already in place.

New auditors are going to have to be intentional about connecting with people, whether it’s  team members, people within the organization, or people who are part of their management group. If they show that drive and exercise their soft skills, then other things, such as opportunities for further contribution, will naturally fall into place.

GROWING THROUGH THE IIA

For auditors new to the profession or looking to advance their careers, The IIA has many helpful initiatives. Take the Emerging Leaders Task Force (ELTF), for example. Made up of IIA volunteers, the task force encourages emerging internal audit leaders to engage, connect, and contribute to the profession. 

The task force recently launched the Emerging Leaders Mentoring Program. I served as a mentor through the inaugural program, and I am very enthusiastic to participate again this year. Being a mentor has allowed me to develop new relationships and given me a better understanding of the challenges internal auditors are facing today at different stages in their careers. 

The ELTF also recently launched The IIA’s Emerging Leaders LinkedIn Group, a place for the next generation of internal auditors to network. Young professionals can share their knowledge on the Group page, learn about IIA opportunities, and find curated IIA resources most relevant to them.

In addition, the ELTF supports Internal Auditor magazine’s annual Emerging Leaders program, which since 2013 has been recognizing up-and-coming internal auditors who have the potential to be future leaders. I was honored to be chosen as an Emerging Leader in 2014 and will be the first alumni to serve as the chair of the North American Board. 

On the volunteer side, The IIA is making it easier for internal auditors to get involved with the association by transitioning certain committees to advisory committees and promoting volunteer opportunities on a more ad hoc basis. This allows auditors who are busy at work or who have family obligations — which includes some of our younger auditors — to pop in and contribute to a working group and then pop back out, as necessary. For me, volunteering has played a key role in my professional development and has opened the door to new opportunities. It has given me the chance to meet many talented and passionate internal auditors from my community and around the world (see “Stepping Stones to Leadership” above).

ADVANCING CAREERS

Many of the things that make people successful as professionals are still going to be there no matter the landscape — things like being accountable for one’s career, learning as much as possible about one’s organization and industry, and connecting with peers in the internal audit profession. Showing a commitment to internal audit advocacy and the International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing, continuous learning, and engaging with other practitioners can help internal auditors get there.

New auditors need to go after the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) certification because it will help them develop their understanding of the Standards, which are the foundation of the profession. Having the CIA demonstrates the auditor’s commitment to, and ultimately proficiency in, internal auditing.

It’s important for the next generation of auditors to embrace as many opportunities as possible. One of the things that made a difference for me in my career was being open to experiences, and that included sometimes taking assignments that nobody else wanted and ones that stretched me, resulting in greater learning and growth. Those different opportunities and experiences can help open doors in internal auditors’ careers. It’s that growth potential that will attract the next generation and help us collectively advance the profession. I hope you will join me on the journey. 

Laura Soileau
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About the Author

 

 

SoileauSoileau<p>​<span style="line-height:19.2px;">​​​​​​​​​Laura Soileau, CIA, CRMA, CPA, discusses the daily challenges facing today's internal auditors. She​ is a director in Postlethwaite & Netterville’s Consulting Department in Baton Rouge, La​.​</span></p>https://iaonline.theiia.org/blogs/Soileau

 

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