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Women in Auditing

14 Feb. 2017 By Jillian Bernstein

While wearing my audit manager hat, I need to consider the culture of the jurisdiction in which I am compiling an audit team.
Perhaps, in that jurisdiction, a woman cannot be a lead auditor.
Perhaps, a woman may not be comfortable staying in the local motel.
While wearing my auditor hat, I am often confronted with the fact that I am a woman, and a young woman at that.

Like any other profession, auditing is growing and the role gender plays in it is becoming more apparent.
As an audit manager and female auditor, I am constantly aware of certain issues women face in the profession.
In January, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on women in auditing at the IIA’s 2017 EHS Exchange in San Diego. There I was given the opportunity to collaborate with three brilliant and experienced women and present how the audit world and women’s role in that world have changed over time.

In just my few years working in the auditing world, I have experienced many situations in which I thought to myself - I would never be in this mess if I were a man.
As a result, gender is constantly at the back of my mind when doing auditing work. While wearing my audit manager hat, I need to consider the culture of the jurisdiction in which I am compiling an audit team. Perhaps, in that jurisdiction, a woman cannot be a lead auditor. Or perhaps, a woman may not be comfortable staying in the local motel. While wearing my auditor hat, I am often confronted with the fact that I am a woman, and a young woman at that. I have had facility managers treat me like a granddaughter, hugs included. I have had maintenance supervisors second-guess my knowledge of health and safety requirements. I have had security personnel involved in EHS programs try to intimidate me into removing findings. I certainly do not think that these situations only arise for women, but I do think we are a distinct group that can effectively highlight and communicate these issues.

I based a few of the questions for the panelists on a 2015 report published by the IIA titled, “Women in Internal Auditing: Perspectives from Around the World” (available online at: http://theiia.mkt5790.com/CBOK_2015_Women_in_Internal_Audit/?webSyncID=7e0ada18-871b-e4ec-5e6d-c88b433a9d13&sessionGUID=8cc5db92-832c-6e5e-7954-d5057ba197d0 ). I found the report interesting and agreed with most of the key points and conclusions. One of the key points of the report states that “many organizations have diversity initiatives that provide opportunities for women in internal audit.” For some reason this key point bothers me.
Going back to my law school days, I remember that women are a protected class under equal protection, but I cannot help but get frustrated that these types of protections are still deemed necessary. I imagine the women that paved the way for me see these diversity initiatives as a win. I, however, do not want an initiative to only level the playing field and make things equal. I want to actually be viewed as equal. I worry that these initiatives will allow people to question whether the woman who snagged the coveted position deserved the promotion or if the decision makers just needed to meet a quota.

During the panel presentation, we opened the floor for people to share their own experiences and ask questions.
A few themes kept coming up as we discussed the progression of women in auditing:

  • the importance of mentors
  • maintaining a work-life balance
  • and having confidence in your abilities

While each of these themes can make a big difference in a person’s career, I want to focus on mentoring. Each of the women on the panel described mentors they had along the way and how they helped shape their professional careers. As more junior-level people enter the work force, I cannot stress enough the importance and benefit of quality mentoring programs. I have heard countless stories of how both sides benefitted greatly from a mentorship relationship; the mentee from the experience of his or her mentor and the mentor from learning how to effectively communicate with more junior-level colleagues.

While I hope that the attendees enjoyed the presentation and got something out of it, I count it as a success because of what I gained from being the moderator. I heard the stories of three strong, independent women and saw how they were able to rise to their prominent positions within their companies. But most importantly, I learned the importance of patience and that eventually my hard work will pay off.

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