Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Auditing Profession: Individual Auditor Experiences and Contributions

51 Pages Posted: 5 May 2022 Last revised: 7 Jul 2022

See all articles by Emily E. Griffith

Emily E. Griffith

University of Wisconsin - Madison

Kathryn M. Holmstrom

Iowa State University - College of Business

Carissa L. Malone

North Carolina State University

Date Written: June 2022


While audit firms make efforts to increase diversity within their ranks, and diversity in audit firm offices improves audit quality, the auditing profession in the U.S. remains disproportionately White and male, particularly at the top ranks. Our goal is to understand how individuals can contribute to workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in ways that are unique to the auditing environment. We conduct interviews with 32 audit professionals of all ranks, many with diverse backgrounds, and use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs applied to the workplace to understand how their experiences with their colleagues relate to individual and firm DEI outcomes. We find that for diverse auditors, the need for emotional safety, which forms the foundation for successive needs for belonging, esteem, and self-actualization, goes unmet for many different reasons. Thus, DEI efforts that target these higher order needs or help auditors move toward self-actualization are unlikely to have the desired impact unless inadequate emotional safety is also addressed. Encouragingly, our interviews suggest that auditors of all backgrounds and levels can contribute to building a more diverse and inclusive workplace through simple but intentional behaviors to increase auditors’ feelings of emotional safety. We identify behaviors of individual auditors that can complement larger scale office- and firm-wide efforts. These insights will provide audit firms with additional tools for promoting inclusivity and ultimately increasing diversity at the top ranks.

Keywords: audit profession; diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); emotional safety; Maslow's hierarchy of needs; psychological safety; public accounting profession

JEL Classification: M41, M42

Suggested Citation

Griffith, Emily Elaine and Holmstrom, Kathryn and Malone, Carissa, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Auditing Profession: Individual Auditor Experiences and Contributions (June 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4097145 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4097145

Emily Elaine Griffith

University of Wisconsin - Madison ( email )

School of Business
975 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706
United States

Kathryn Holmstrom

Iowa State University - College of Business ( email )

Ames, IA 50011-2063
United States

Carissa Malone (Contact Author)

North Carolina State University ( email )

Hillsborough Street
Raleigh, NC 27695
United States

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