Bridge over ocean
7 March 2023 Article

The Audit Gender Gap: Has It Narrowed?

  1. Sandra J. Peters, CPA, CFA

A 2018 CFA Institute study found that women rarely run the biggest audits at Big Four accounting firms. A new report examines updated data to determine whether the gap has changed and how much progress is still needed.

The Audit Gender Gap: Has It Narrowed? Read Report
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Report Overview

Back in 2018, CFA Institute published New Public Company Audit Disclosures: Who Audits the Company You Invest In? How Long Have They Been the Auditor? The report used data — which named, for the first time, lead engagement partners — from then recently enacted standards related to audit participants published by the US Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB).

Using this newly available data, we looked at the names of the lead engagement partners of the largest public US companies — the S&P 500 and S&P 100 companies, representing the accounting firms’ largest, most prestigious, and sometimes most lucrative “clients” — to determine what percentage were women. In 2018, based on the new 2017 data, we found that only 14.6% and 11%, respectively, of S&P 500 and S&P 100 companies’ lead audit partners were women.

For this report, which is based on 2021 fiscal year-end audits, we updated the data to see if the percentage of women acting as lead audit engagement partners of these largest corporations had improved. Said differently, has the gap narrowed?

Our review of the data suggests that progress has been made in narrowing the gender gap during the last four years, with some firms doing much better than others.

Overall, in 2021, there were nearly 40% more S&P 500 female lead engagement partners than four years prior, with the number of lead engagement partners rising from 79 (14.6%) to 102 (20.4%), although one firm remains significantly below the others. In the S&P 100, progress has been even more significant. The number of female lead engagement partners has more than doubled from 11 (11%) to 24 (24%).

So, progress has been made, but there is much room to improve, with women comprising nearly 50% of those entering the accounting profession. Mandatory rotation of audit partners every five years provides an opportunity for even more progress to be made, and we will be following that progress.

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