The Influence of Female Audit Partners in Audit Work: A Study of the Big 4 in the UK

William John Jackson, Audrey Sadie Paterson, Christopher Pong, Simona Scarparo

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


    The vast majority of work on gender in accountancy has focused on the inability of women to reach the top of the profession, the experiences of those women as they try to reach the top, and the reasons why they fail to reach the top. The reasons established in the literature fall into two primary categories: firstly structural reasons that suggest patriarchal institutions, systems and prejudices prevent womens’ progression; secondly, women make life and career choices that prioritise (mainly) family considerations over career progression. Our study offers a new perspective because it is not examining mobility issues per se, but rather explores a gender bias against that group of women who may be perceived to have already reached the top; namely female audit partners in the big four firms. This is an area of increasing significance as the large firms claim to be working hard to eliminate gender bias and increasingly point to the growing numbers of female partners as evidence of their success. Within this group, many of the previously cited reasons for gender bias might, it is argued, be either mitigated or irrelevant as the female partners can be perceived to have overcome many of the structural difficulties or to have made life choices that prioritise career rather than family. Broadly the study questions whether significant continuing gender bias is detectable amongst a group of women that can be seen as having already succeeded in a traditionally male dominated profession. Data obtained from financial statements is used as a basis for the analysis of the type and importance of the work done by female audit partners and to assess whether work at partner level is equitably distributed. In this regard, the number of quoted companies held by a partner and the audit fees generated by these companies are used as a proxy for importance of the work. What the study shows is that there is a clear bias against female partners obtaining the large, important and lucrative clients, even when the data is controlled for age and experience. This clearly demonstrates the existence of continued gender bias even in the upper echelons of the large audit firms and has implications for the continued attempts of these firms to eliminate such bias.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationEuropean Accounting Association 35th Annual Congress
    Subtitle of host publicationProgramme and Collected Abstracts
    PublisherUniversity of Ljubljana
    ISBN (Print)978-961-240-233-4
    Publication statusPublished - 2012
    EventEuropean Accounting Association, 35th Annual Congress - Ljubjana, Slovenia
    Duration: 8 May 201212 May 2012


    ConferenceEuropean Accounting Association, 35th Annual Congress


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