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1st Woman Picked to Lead ‘Big Four’ Accounting Firm

Women account for an estimated 50% of accounting grads joining the profession.

By University Alliance on April 08, 2015
‘Big Four’ Accounting Firm Names 1st Female CEO

Three decades after joining Deloitte LLP, Cathy Engelbert has been elected as chief executive officer of the accounting, auditing and consulting company. She is the first woman to head one of the major professional services firms in the United States, which are widely known as the Big Four.

Engelbert, a certified public accountant who has a bachelor’s in accounting, previously served as chairman and CEO of Deloitte & Touche, leading the subsidiary’s audit practice. In her new role, she will oversee approximately 70,000 employees in the United States and India.

Engelbert told CNBC in March 2015 that becoming Deloitte’s CEO is “a testament to our long commitment to diversity inclusion,” and that she intends to “really pay that forward for our future diverse leaders at Deloitte.”

According to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), women represent about 20% of accounting firm partners in the United States, even though they represent about half of the accounting grads who have joined the profession during the past 20 years.

Nationwide, employment of accountants and auditors is projected to increase by 13% between 2012 and 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. That’s faster than the average for all occupations (11%). The average annual salary for those professionals was $73,670 as of May 2014.

The other members of the Big Four are Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG.

Engelbert’s election represents “a momentous occasion for the CPA profession,” the AICPA’s president, Barry C. Melancon, said in a February statement. “Cathy will be a role model for future generations of female leaders in our profession.”

Engelbert’s promotion, which came just weeks before the annual observance of National Financial Literacy Month in April, was one of two major announcements involving female leaders in the area of accounting and finance.

In March, Google hired Morgan Stanley’s Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat to fill the same role with the search engine giant.

Engelbert has said her rise through the company ranks was made possible, in part, by mentors and sponsors, as well as by her own willingness to take on new responsibilities and opportunities.

Women and minorities accounted for about two-thirds of Deloitte’s hires over the past year, and Engelbert said the firm could hire up to 24,000 employees in the coming year.

“As you think about the workforce of the future, women and minorities are such an important part of that future,” the mother of two told Fortune in February.

Category: 2015 Headlines