Learning to play the game: audit quality, diversity and social mobility in the big-4

This project follows the experiences of early career auditors of audit failure, diversity and social mobility in a big-4 firm, following severe criticism from the regulator.


Project description

This mixed methods study seeks to link the extensive literature on socialisation in the big-4 with the growing cross-paradigm literature on audit failure.

Our data draws on self-reflective diaries, interviews, group discussions, a small cohort survey, and later follow-up interviews as early career auditors progress into leadership positions. Using this data we aim to explore how audit failure becomes embedded, how attempts to address audit failure are experienced at the audit team level and how auditors' understanding of audit quality develops over time.

The second aim of the project focuses on diversity and social mobility. In this stream we note the wide-ranging perspectives among auditors on the profession and draw attention to how audit practice is experienced very differently by different groups within the firm. We similarly explore the firm’s attempts to widen participation and address EDI issues, while exploring the persistent barriers to progression that some experience. This feeds into wider issues of workload, recruitment, and retention that are seen to impact audit quality.

The project is led by Dr James Brackley, University of Sheffield, along with co-authors Dr Charika Channuntapipat, Thailand Development Research Institute, and Dr Florian
Gebreiter, University of Birmingham.

Key research outputs

Briefing note: Audit Quality: Beyond the technical perspective

Report: Brackley, J. (2023) Addicted to Growth? What We Know About Higher Education Finances. May 2023, University of Sheffield.

Research activity

Invited presentations

Brackley, J. (2022) Learning to play the game: the (re)construction of audit quality in a big-4 accounting firm. September 2022, University of Birmingham.


Dr James Brackley, Sheffield University Management School

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