Critical Review of Journal
In this paper, a critical review of the journal article, ‘‘Helping them to forget..’’: the organizational embedding of gender relations in public audit firms by Fiona Anderson-Gough, Christopher Grey, Keith Robson will be conducted. The journal article presents a study that was conducted to examine and identify the processes of professional socialization that contribute to development of gender relationships in the offices of 2 multi-national audit firms. The study involved a qualitative study whereby audit trainees of the firms were interviewed to assess organizational practices that lead to gendering. The study found out that both formal and informal processes were intertwined in ways that contribute to gender domination in the audit firms. This analysis will evaluate various sections of the article and the manner in which the study was conducted and presented in the article.
According to the researchers, the research problem is that there is lack of research regarding the micro-organizational processes that contribute to gender domination in the Big Four audit firm. As a result, the article seeks to address this problem by identifying the relationship between the socialization of employees into organizational practices and how these practices lead to the development of gender structures and gender inequality.
Research has shown that there are quite few female employees and their high turnover in the Big Four audit firms (Jenny & Vasut 2014). This article is interesting as it suggests and explores the institutionalization of gender structures in organizational practices, both formal and informal practices. The article digs deeper into the issue of gender in audit firms that have always had fewer female employees. It also attempts to explain the scarcity of women in top positions in audit firms and the organizational forces behind this scarcity.
The most interesting part of the article is viewing gender inequality from a different angle: organizational structures and practices. Besides, it is interesting that the study was conducted in two of the leading audit firms and the study involved an analysis of organizational practices of organizations that would do anything to protect their brand and identity.
The findings of the study could be critical in providing evidence and eliciting a debate on the extent at which gendering has been institutionalized in audit firms. In addition, the outcomes of the study will shed more light on the structuration of audit firms and how these influence employee practices such that these actions intentionally or unintentionally lead to gender inequality. Furthermore, the outcomes of this study could be beneficial in providing guidelines on how the audit firms could review their structures and practices to be more objective and not be selective on gender. Future studies could also use the findings as a background or basis in research about gender inequality in leading firms in the organizational perspective and not from the social perspective.
The authors of the article are motivated by various factors. Firstly, they are compelled by the lack of adequate research on micro-organizational processes that contribute to gender domination in the Big Five audit firm. Another motivation behind the authors writing this article is the perceived difficulties in conducting such a study and gaining access to the practices of organizations that would otherwise derail from explaining their practices. The topic is also relevant in the current environment as research shows that gender inequality continues to exist in the accounting profession and that many people still believe that auditing and accounting should be reserved for men (Silva, Magro & Da Silva 2016). Therefore, the study would enable the authors contribute to the research regarding gender inequality in the male dominated professions.
A recent study by Jenny and Vasut (2014) has also shown that women are a rarely promoted in the Big Four audit firms in the UK and this finding emphasizes on the need to analyze the organizational processes and practices that lead to this level of gender inequality in this day and age when more women are entering into the male dominated careers like accounting compared to the previous years. The findings of the journal article will therefore make a huge contribution towards highlighting the role of organizational structures and practices in facilitating the inequality.
This journal article has not used any theory or theoretical framework to support the research. While the lack of a theoretical framework in this article could suggest that the researchers might have lacked structure for the study, the study was a qualitative research and so a theory or theoretical framework was not necessary (Lederman & Lederman 2015). As opposed to a quantitative research, a qualitative research is not usually theory driven as no existing theory is being tested. Rather, a theory or theoretical framework could be missing for a qualitative study that could be attempting to develop a theoretical framework for a certain topic. Even though this article does not develop a theory or theoretical frameworks it attempts to develop an explanation and understanding of various organizational processes that lead to the development of gender dominance in audit firms.
The key motivating literature that the study depends on include: a journal article by Harper, a journal article by Anderson-Gough, and another one by Dirsmith and Covaleski. These three articles are published in an accounting conference paper, Accounting Organizations and Society journal and organization journal respectively. While the Organizations journal article is based on the ABS ranking implying that the Dirsmith and Covaleski article is more objective, a key motivating literature on which the study relies on is self-cited, implying that it is published in the same journal as the current article.
The problem with self-citation is that it has a bias element in terms of increasing the average number of citations of a particular journal. However, this particular article in question involved a study conducted by the same authors of this current article and this could imply that the researchers were continuing from where they left from the previous research. The self-citation could act as an advantage to the researchers as it highlights their previous work and their continuation for future research.
The research method that has been chosen in the study is qualitative whereby the researchers conducted semi-structured interviews on the audit trainees of the two firms. This methodology was necessary in collecting descriptive data and in developing themes out of this data to address the topic of study. The main advantages of semi-structured interviews in qualitative research are that they allow respondents to express their views in the best way they can and they interview help to collect reliable and comparable data (Sutton & Austin 2015).
Since the study involved many respondents and the researchers had only one chance to interview each respond, the semi-structured interview were the best instrument to collect data for this study. Besides, the research problem involved looking for descriptive data that would be used to develop a relationship between organizational practices and gender inequality in the audit firms. Semi-structured interviews were the best data gathering technique for this study as respondents would have a chance to elaborate and expand on their responses.
Other than the interviews, the researchers used other data collection methods and research instruments including the background knowledge of the research team, the considerable amount of time spent at the firms by the researchers, and the research and brochures provided by the firms regarding their organizational practices. These other sources of data collection helped to collect large sets of data to enhance the key research instrument of the study that is semi-structured interviews. Besides, this also helped minimize the over-dependency on the interviews as the only source of data.
Another data gathering technique that could have been used in this research is questionnaires; both close ended and open-ended questionnaires would have helped gather data for the study. While questionnaires would have been more cost efficient for this particular research, the use of questionnaires is limited by poor interpretation of the questions by the respondents and lack of reliable responses. In addition, questionnaires could not have provided the detailed information that the semi-structured interviews collected (Alshenqeeti, 2014). If questionnaires were used, the data collected would have been insufficient to adequately address the research problem.
Regarding the sample size, the study conducted two sets of interviews; the first interview involved 77 respondents while the second interview involved 30 respondents. The response rate was 50% according to the researchers and this implies that half of the target population sample participated in the study. In addition, the research was conducted in tow out of four big audit firms; hence the sample was representative of the target population. The researchers have not mentioned the sampling strategy that was used to get the study sample. Based on the problem statement of the study, the target population is people working in large audit firms and for this study, the researchers chose to interview audit trainees.
The most ideal sampling strategy would have been purposeful sampling whereby researchers choose participants based on preselected criteria according to the research question or research problem. For this study, the purposeful sampling strategy would have been used to approach employees working in the targeted audit firms (Leung 2015). This could be the strategy that the researchers used even though they never mentioned it.
The researchers have not adequately addressed the issues of validity and reliability of the research. However, based on the data collection tool that is semi-structured interviews, the validity of the instrument is questionable because of various reasons. First, since the interviews involved the respondents giving opinions while answering the interview questions, the researchers could not tell whether the participants were telling the truth or not. Secondly, respondents might try to tell the truth but when asked to recall incidences, they might not remember everything in details. The third reason that questions that validity of the data collection instrument is that interviews could provide people with a second chance to reflect on actions (Leung 2015). This implies that some people tend to rationalize their actions and the explanations for some incidents might be quite different from what an individual was feeling when an incident happened. Despite these concerns, the questions of validity have not been adequately addressed in this study.
Regarding questions of reliability, the reliability of the research instrument and the whole research is questionable. Having semi-structured interview questions implies that not all questions are predetermined and so no interview would be similar to another. Therefore, different respondents could have answered the interview questions in different ways depending on different factors such as personal beliefs, organizational practices and the relationship with the researcher (Leung 2015). For instance, the trainees might have joined the firms with already set conceptions regarding gender roles and this could be confused on organizational practices that influence gender roles in the audit firms.
The researchers have analysed the results of the research by using different themes. The themes used in the article include: formal recruitment and selection, organizational behavior, formal performance appraisal, gendered interactions and time management. According to Sutton and Austin (2015), theming is method of results analysis and interpretation that is used in qualitative research. The key strength of this method is its usefulness in discussing different perspectives of respondents while identifying similarities and differences.
The method is also highly flexible implying that it could be used in any qualitative research and it helps in developing a well-organized report. The key limitation of using themes to analyse and interpret data is that it is inconsistent when it comes to developing themes from the research data (Sutton & Austin 2015). However, given the nature of this study and the research problem it is trying to address, the use of themes was effective in addressing the topic of study.
Considering the conclusions and recommendations of the study, the researchers have made them consistent with the study findings. For instance, the researchers have concluded by mentioning the different themes presented in the results section and their relationships with gender structuring. The researchers have also provided explanations of various themes in relations to past studies. However, the researchers have not provided any recommendations even though they have mentioned the contributions of the study in understanding organizational process.
In summary, this was an interesting article documenting a qualitative study done to assess how organizational practices lead to the development of gender inequality in audit firms. The article has adequately addressed the factors influencing gender particularly from the organizational perspective rather than the social perspective as gender is usually viewed. However, the researchers could have provided more information regarding the sampling method used and how the participants were approached for the study.