Women and Search Committees

Studies of faculty development initiatives often fail to match the rigorous standards of randomized trials. In Spain, however,  two economists took advantage of a natural experiment to measure the impact of gender on promotion committees.

Spanish candidates for academic promotion compete against a national pool. Review panels are selected by lottery. So, over the course of thousands of decisions from 2002 to 2006, panels formed that consisted of all men and different combinations of men and women.

The study found that for promotion to associate professor, the gender composition of the reviewers did not make a difference in whether female candidates received promotion. When it came to promotions to full professor, though, having a female member of the committee increases a female candidate’s chance of success by 14 percent.

Their conclusions point to the need for review committees to reflect the diversity of the institution. They do not mention whether the data also show the same effect for underrepresented minority candidates, but the logic may work the same way. Curiously, the authors found in another paper that female-majority committees are less likely to promote women than ones where just a few women participate.

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