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The Gendered Production of Audit Quality

Thursday, 15 December, 2011 - 17:00
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus
Faculty: Social Sciences and Solvay Business School
Kris Hardies
phd defence

This dissertation investigates what difference (and under what circumstances) gender makes for
the production of audit quality. There is much interest of both scholars and regulators for the
quality of auditing to assure the credibility of companies’ financial reporting. Audit quality is
ultimately determined by the behavior of auditors, which is likely to be gendered (i.e., patterned
through and in terms of a distinction between femininity and masculinity). Gender scholars have
convincingly shown how people “do gender” (i.e., create differences) in and through the
enactment of work activities. This study therefore addresses the question how gender directs
auditors’ behaviors and how this affects audit quality. Specifically, it answers the question how
auditors do gender in and through the process of being an auditor. Moreover, it explains how the
doings of gender affect the production of audit quality in terms of the level of assurance that is
provided (i.e., the outcome of the audit production process). The study employed a concurrent
mixed methods design based upon data from the Belgian audit market. A qualitative
methodology based principally upon a program of semi-structured interviews with 24
respondents was employed. Emergent themes regarding the gendered fundamentals of “doing
audit” and “being an auditor” were extracted from the interview data using content analysis.
Analyses of large samples of archival data were used to investigate the gendered nature of
specific outcomes of the audit production process, namely (1) audit opinions (N = 14,314) and
(2) audit fees (N = 13,828). Triangulation of the results of these quantitative analyses with those
themes that emerged from the interview data leads to the conclusion that female auditors
(especially within the larger audit firms) produce higher audit quality than male auditors;
although the opaqueness of audit quality obscures this fact for auditors themselves and for their
firms. The results of this study can be used to understand the organizational micro-practices by
which gender differences and hierarchies are (re)produced within audit firms, which eventually
affects the production of the audit. The results can also be used to encourage (large) audit firms
to change their discourses and reward structure.

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