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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.

Audit Gender Gap Report

Audit Gender Gap Report


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.

About the Author(s)

Sandy Peters
Sandra J. Peters CPA, CFA

Sandra J. Peters, CFA, is head of financial reporting policy and serves as spokesperson for CFA Institute to key financial reporting standard setters including the IASB, FASB, and the US Securities and Exchange Commission. She holds the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation.

Ms. Peters holds a BSBA in accounting from the University of Nebraska and an MBA in finance from Indiana University. She was awarded the CFA designation in 1998. Ms. Peters leads the Financial Reporting Policy team responsible for tracking all financial reporting issues, including coordinating the efforts of the Corporate Disclosure Policy Council, a key committee of CFA Institute volunteers that reviews and comments on financial reporting policy initiatives worldwide. She serves as spokesperson for CFA Institute to key financial reporting standard setters including the IASB, FASB, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and conducts outreach to other professional organizations and the media to discuss and promote financial reporting policies.

Ms. Peters has an extensive and well-balanced background as a user advocate, preparer, and auditor. Most recently, Ms. Peters served as vice president and corporate controller at MetLife Inc., where she managed a staff of 60 individuals and was responsible for SEC Reporting, Technical Accounting, SOX Controls, and HR Controllers.

Prior to joining MetLife, she was a partner at KPMG LLP providing audit services primarily for insurance and financial services companies with an emphasis on clients in the financial guarantee, reinsurance, and property and casualty sectors of the insurance industry. While at KPMG she spent three years in London as a member of the U.S. Capital Market Group, where she assisted several European-based multinational clients with U.S. GAAP conversion projects, the SEC registration process, and technical assistance on U.S. GAAP accounting issues and SEC disclosure matters.

Ms. Peters is a CPA licensed in New York, Texas, and Nebraska and a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the New York Society of Securities Analysts (NYSSA). She is also member of the AICPA's Insurance Expert Panel.