Research: Women Underrepresented in Top Accounting Jobs

Accounting firms often rank highly for their gender equality efforts but new research suggests that women are substantially underrepresented in higher positions.

Women make up just 17% of audit partners of U.S. audit clients, according to the new report, and in major U.S. metropolitan areas like San Jose, Calif., and Washington, D.C., the number is closer to 10%.

The analysis, from researchers at Bentley University, University of Colorado Denver and Northeastern University, was enabled by a rule from the PCAOB that requires accounting firms to disclose the name of the partner in charge of each public company audit.

The Big 4 firms all report having more than 40% female employees but the new data reveals that in these firms only 19% of audit partners are women. PwC has the highest representation of women audit partners (22%) and KPMG the lowest among the Big 4 (15.3%). At non-Big 4 audit firms, the representation of women as partners is even lower, at 15%, the new research found.

The research also found:

  • In states that voted for Republican presidential candidates in the last four elections, a mere 14% of audit partners are female.
  • In states that voted for Democratic candidates in the last four presidential elections, more than 20% of audit partners are female.
  • Within major metropolitan areas, female audit partners are most common in Minneapolis (32%), Los Angeles (24.1%), Boston (22.5%) and New York (21.7%).
  • Female audit partners are least common in San Jose, Calif., (9.7%), Washington, D.C. (10.9%), Atlanta (11.6%) and Philadelphia (12.2%).

While the current representation of women at the partner level is underwhelming, some accounting firms have made noticeable progress in promoting qualified female talent, the study said. In 2015, Deloitte named its first female CEO, Cathy Engelbert, and in 2016, PwC’s newly inducted audit partner class was 30% female.