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Can You Have A Successful And Flexible Career In Internal Audit?

5/07/2019 by Andy Winterburgh

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You may have heard by now that flexible working is one of the key benefits that prospective employees look for in a new role. It might even be that where you currently work has some flexible working practices in place but can it really and truly work in Internal Audit? Could you be working at a high profile financial services business and still be home for bath time? Or could you really use Friday afternoons to pursue your sideline? 

The way we work has changed and so has organisational culture, even in big financial institutions, which means that Internal Auditors are enjoying great careers while working flexibly. We talked to Frances Hawkins, MD at Goldman Sachs and Carley Eaton, Portfolio Director within Barclays Internal Audit to find out more.

Can you tell us about your career so far?

Frances: I’ve been an auditor for 20 years, first with Deloitte where most of my clients were in the public sector and required lots of travel across the UK and now I work for Goldman Sachs, where I’ve been for the last 15 years. I’m a managing director with global responsibility based in London.
 

Carley: I started my career on the fantastic graduate programme with KPMG before moving to BIA 10 years ago. I started as an Audit Senior (AVP) and I have worked my way up through the department doing a variety of different roles. I started auditing the Barclaycard and Retail Banking businesses. I also had the opportunity to travel extensively which I loved back then, before having a family. I have a passion for setting up and developing new teams. I set up and co-led BIA’s data analytics function back in 2012, and a few years later moved on to set up a new Corporate Real Estate Services audit team, as well as to manage the existing supplier risk teams. I also took a slight detour to manage a 1st line of defense supplier risk team.  I have had two year-long maternity breaks, and between my maternity leaves, I was fortunate enough to set up a team to audit Barclays response to Banking Structural Reform, a once in a career opportunity. I am now back focusing on taking our data strategy to the next level. 

Why did you decide to ask for flexible working?

Frances: My flexible working was first offered to me as a way of on-ramping after my first maternity leave 9 years ago.  My then boss, suggested I try a staggered return over 12 weeks to settle back in, it really helped and after the 12 weeks I asked for a 4 day week with a fixed finish time to help me get home to see my baby in the evenings.

Carley: I asked for flexible working at the end of my first maternity leave. I was very clear in my mind that I loved my work and that I wanted to return, but that I also wanted to be the ‘primary carer’ for my son and spend more time with him than I was away from him. I also wanted to free some time to spend on other interests and commitments outside of work.  This led me to request a 3-day week arrangement. 

How did your employer help you? 

Frances: Goldman are a very flexible employer and I had huge support from my manager.  When I returned from maternity leave after my second child a few years later I was delighted to be offered a global role in IA whilst maintaining my 4 day week and even more pleased when I was promoted to MD. 

Carley: Barclays were fantastic! Throughout my maternity leave, my line manager continually reinforced the message, that BIA would have me back for us as much or as little time as I could commit to, and that they would find a role to fit my needs. They absolutely did that, and I returned to the very challenging Structural Reform role. The process of submitting the flexible working request was simple, smooth and transparent, and once I returned, my line manager changed a few times, but the commitment to helping my flexible arrangement succeed remained the same. 

What challenges do you face on an everyday basis and how does your company help you overcome them? Is it really practical to work flexibly in Internal Audit? 

Frances: Initially I find it’s more of an adjustment for the teams that report to me as my availability can be limited particularly for US hours, but Goldman provided tips on how to make flexible working successful such as blocking out my calendar and being very transparent with my global teams on my start and finish times.  IA is the perfect career for people that want to work flexibility as we are project driven which gives you a huge amount of autonomy over how your day, week, month can be structured.  Of course there can be an element of seasonality when the hours in IA can be longer, but the key is to be flexible in those peak periods and I’m very honest about what meetings I can and can’t attend based on my need to leave.

Carly: Mostly, I think I experience the same challenges as any other working parent. On my work days, my husband and I juggle the nursery drops and pick-ups. It is often a hard stop at 5pm, and it can take discipline to leave the office without finishing that last email, or taking just one more call. My days in the office are often packed with meetings as I squeeze as much in as I can. My employer is flexible with remote working, and most importantly for me, they measure me on my output, not on the time I spend in the office. Success for me is that my flexible arrangement largely goes unnoticed in terms of the impact on others. The flip side of leaving the office promptly at 5 pm is that I do sometimes log back on in the evening.

I have had great teams around me who I trust implicitly to pick things up and deputise for me when I am not in the office. I have learned what is worthwhile to spend time on, and what I can delegate or leave. The best advice I have received is that it is down to me to set my boundaries, and once in place, others will respect them.

With a supportive employer who wants you to succeed and the confidence to set your own boundaries, the benefits are absolutely worth it. 

What are the pros and cons of working flexibly in Internal Audit?

Frances: The pros are clear, it allows people to flex their careers to fit in other things that are important to them, I have a number of people in my teams that work flexibly for all kinds of reasons, such as reducing long commutes, following sporting interests, studying or childcare.  For me the cons tend to be more individual, as people still worry about the perception of reduced days/hours, but Goldman is not a facetime culture, it’s always been about productivity and so I’ve felt confident to continue taking flexibility myself and to offer it to others in our group.

Carley: The pros are that I am able to continue with a very fulfilling career whilst also being able to spend quality time with my young children. I can also support my local community in ways that I wouldn’t be able to do without flexible working. On my non-work days, I help to run a toddler group for my local church and I am also a co-opted school governor in my spare time. 

A lot of people ask me if a con is that I do a full-time role in fewer hours. I find that difficult to answer because every role is so different. I haven’t personally felt that and I think that it comes back to the fact my managers have measured on output. Therefore, I don’t feel any pressure to squeeze more working hours into my week if me and my team are delivering to a high standard. 
 
For me the biggest con is the classic ‘can you have it all?’ dilemma. It seems inevitable that my children will get sick at the same time as I need to present at an important meeting or turn around a request at short notice. On those days, I can feel like I am not giving either work or family enough attention. Thankfully those days are relatively few and far between, and again it is not necessarily linked to working flexibly, just being a working parent. 

Are there any instances where you feel working flexibly has stopped you from achieving something specific or held you back in your career?
Frances: Based on my experience I’d have to say no, there have been committee meetings that I’ve missed and opportunities that I’ve had to let go, but I tend to see my career as a marathon not a sprint and I’ve always been fortunate that new opportunities have presented themselves so I’ve never felt that I’ve missed out. 

Carley: That is a really interesting question. In my ten years in Barclays Internal Audit, I have taken on new challenges at least every two years. I have had great managers who have encouraged me to take on roles outside of my comfort zone. Each time there has been a hint that I have been stagnating, something has changed for me. That has continued despite my flexible arrangements coming into play. The best, most challenging roles I have had have been those I have taken on since working flexibly.

I honestly don’t think my employers think too much about my flexible working arrangement when they are considering talent and development. They trust me to deliver and how and when I choose to deliver is down to me. 

That said, it is difficult to know where I might be now if I hadn’t chosen to work flexibility. I place a lot of value on it and therefore have stayed in BIA for a long time. If flexibility hadn’t been an option and I was working full time, I may have chosen to experience working in a different organization or in a different line of defense instead. Either way, I am very happy with the opportunities that have presented themselves and I am confident that BIA will support me in continuing to achieve my career goals.  

What’s next - where do you see your career and your flexible working heading? 

Frances: Good question, I don’t see myself giving up my reduced week just yet, although I no longer have to look after my children as they are both in school, I really enjoy my one day a week that’s just mine and I think it makes me more resilient.

Carley: In terms of my career, I am looking forward to continuing to take on bigger and broader roles. Having undertaken a variety of leadership roles both in audit delivery and at the centre, I have the breadth of experience to build on which is important in moving upwards again. Right now, I am really enjoying my time at the centre, and I can imagine working towards an Audit COO role in the future.  

In terms of flexibility, I have worked a 3-day week since 2015. Now that my youngest son is nearly 2 and my eldest is about to start school, I have increased to 4 days. I think that is it for me. There is too much that I want to achieve outside of work, within my community, with different charities or trustee boards, not to mention enjoying spending time with my children. 

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of working in IA with flexible work?

Frances: I’d say do it, it’s a great career, endlessly varied and interesting plus you have this wonderful benefit of being able to work flexibly around your own priorities

Carley: Be as open and transparent as you can with your line manager and employer and show them how and why you think flexible working can work for you and for them. Flexibility is starting tobecomee more of the norm, and we should keep pushing that agenda until the standard five day, 9am-5pm week is a thing of the past. 

Employers are really starting to understand how much more value they get from flexible working in terms of both increased efficiency and also goodwill and motivation. Don’t assume the answer will be ‘no’, and therefore never explore the opportunity that could make a real difference to your life!

Finally, we think Internal Audit is really cool and it is one of our business objectives to encourage people to consider IA as a career and understand the benefits so we ask all our interviewees why they think #auditiscool we’d love to know your answer.

Frances: 2 reasons, first it’s the only job that let’s you see a whole organisation as nobody can say no to you, and secondly, you’re paid to be nosey!

Carley: There is no career like Internal Audit. We get unparalleled access to the most senior decision makers across our organisations and we can see a much bigger picture and connect more dots than most people in most other roles get to do. That is why #auditiscool.

If you are interested in progressing your career in Internal Audit even if it is flexibly, get in touch with Hybridge here.

Additionally, if you would like to help us spread the word that #auditiscool please like, comment and share our interviews and do follow our LinkedIn page for more news and interviews about developing your career in Internal Audit.

If you have a burning question that you would like us to answer in our blogs or perhaps an Internal Audit Leader that you think we haven't yet interviewed who you would like to hear from then do drop us a line here.