By: Meenakshi Razdan

Dubai World Trade Centre’s Head of Internal Audit is a role model for Emirati women who aspire for leadership roles in internal audit

IVE_7161 copy

In an exclusive interview, Internal Auditor – Middle East spoke to Mona Abbas Hussain, CRMA who has been the Head of Internal Audit of Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) since 2008. Mona began her 15 year career as an accountant at a bank and worked her way up the corporate ladder to the top audit position at DWTC where she established the independent internal audit department. Mona is a member of the UAE Internal Audit Association (UAE-IAA) and serves as the Vice Chairman of its Fraud Subject Matter Group. Internal Auditor – Middle East met with Mona Abbas Hussain at DWTC’s offices in Dubai.

What made you decide to become an internal auditor?

My professional career started 15 years ago as an accountant with a reputed bank in the Middle East. I have always had a desire to learn more about business and best practices and that is what made me shift my career from Accounting to Internal Audit 11 years ago. Internal auditing is a rapidly developing profession and the constant challenges at work have been gratifying not only at a professional level but at a personal level as well. In the past this profession was the domain of men and I wanted to break that barrier; and this is where my passion to succeed stemmed from.

How has being a woman in the internal audit profession impacted your career?

When I decided to become an internal auditor eleven years ago, I initially sensed some apprehension from my peers about my decision. They discussed with me the challenges in this role and the physical and mental endurance needed to be able to function in this role. However, I was determined to achieve my goals regardless of any obstacles. My drive to challenge conventions and the passion to succeed helped me garner the support and the guidance I needed in my initial years in this profession. My colleagues at work were extremely supportive and helped me propel my career. The support of my family particularly my parents and my husband and the confidence they showed in my ability kept me motivated. I am especially thankful to my late father, Mr. Abbas Hussain, who always believed in equality between man and a woman and maintained that in the household and also the outside world. I am particularly grateful to the vision of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who has made Dubai an advanced and educated city which is full of opportunities, and where female empowerment and development is encouraged. I would like to thank our CEO Mr. Helal Saeed Almarri & the Board Audit Committee for their support and encouragement over the last 8 years. Last but not least, I am also thankful to Mr. Buti Al Ghandi, Vice Chairman of DWTC who is still my mentor 8 years after joining the company.

What is the biggest barrier to having Emirati women join the internal audit profession? Is the UAE-IAA doing enough to support the entry of women into the audit profession?

One of the biggest obstacles I see for Emirati women in the workforce is maintaining a balance between their personal and professional lives. Another challenge for Emirati women is to assimilate into a highly male-dominated profession. However, I would not want them to deter from having a personal goal and the passion to achieve it. Women are blessed with several innate strengths which enable them to fulfill several roles and responsibilities. Patience, compassion, multi-tasking skills, attention to detail, planning and organizing skills are some of the strengths which help them overcome the obstacles in their career path.

Today Emirati women in internal audit are influencing corporate strategy and policies

Having female heads of audit may be common in the west but not so much in the Middle East. What do you think are the top 3 things that Emirati women need to do to become heads of internal audit?

From my experience, the three top pillars to consider are:
– Ambition: By setting aspirational goals and values, it becomes easier to excel in such a fast-paced industry. It is also imperative to learn from others around you, including colleagues, stakeholders and senior management.
– Leadership skills: Professionals need to develop leadership skills and earn respect from colleagues. Emirati women should aim to leave a lasting impression on colleagues, ensuring hard work is recognized in meetings.
– Educate: Finally, it is important to continue learning and expanding their knowledge-base in the industry. Investing in academic courses ensures that internal auditing certificates such as CIA and CRMA are earned. Knowledge and expertise are absolutely essential to gain a competitive edge.

Are internal audit skills preparing Emirati women for board positions?

Yes, absolutely. Internal auditing is a profession that provides a holistic view of businesses and the underlying processes. Internal auditors are familiar with key controls, risks and practical solutions that help make organisations successful and efficient. This knowledge definitely prepares Emirati women to reach the highest positions in any organisation – including CEO and Board member positions.

Finally, do you think that Emirati women have proven themselves as effective heads of internal audit?

Yes, I do. I started my career fifteen years ago and midway, was focused on building the internal audit department of DWTC. During this time, I also completed the External Quality Assurance Review Certificate, based on the Quality Assurance Review conducted by The Institute of Internal Auditor’s team in September 2011. Successfully earning this qualification is the greatest accomplishment in my career so far. This proves that Emirati women can not only become internal auditors, but also have a meaningful impact on their organisation. However, I also understand that a lot more can be done to empower Emirati women to take on a central role of internal audit, and I believe that the profession will greatly benefit from their work.