Women in tenure committees do not speed up women's science careers

April 21, 2017
Women in tenure committees do not speed up women’s science careers
Analysis showed that including more women in a committee had a noticeable effect on the voting patterns of male evaluators, who became slightly but measurably more negative toward female candidates. Credit: Aalto University / Anni Hanén

According to a study by researchers in Aalto University School of Business, Finland, male evaluators become less favorable toward female candidates as soon as a female evaluator joins the committee. At the same time, female evaluators are not significantly more favorable toward female candidates.

Researchers analyzed how a larger presence of female evaluators affects decision-making using information on 100,000 applications to associate and full professorships in Italy and Spain. These applications were assessed by 8,000 randomly selected evaluators.

The researchers didn't find strong statistical evidence that having more on committees improved the prospects of female applicants. There also didn't seem to be much change in the quality of candidates who were approved for promotion. Candidates approved by diverse committees had roughly the same previous and subsequent research output as those approved by male-dominated ones.

In the Italian evaluations, the researchers could see how individual committee members voted. Analysis showed that including more women in a committee had a noticeable effect on the voting patterns of male evaluators, who became slightly but measurably more negative toward female candidates.

One of the reasons this might happen is the licensing effect. "When there are some women sitting on the committee, men might feel more license to judge female candidates harshly because there is a female evaluator that will defend the female candidates," said Associate Professor Manuel Bagues at Aalto University School of Business.

The appearance of female decision makers in an arena that was once almost exclusively male might also lead to subconscious or overt resentment.

"Traditionally in certain fields there were men sitting on these committees. Once women join the committees, there can be a backlash," says Postdoctoral researcher Natalia Zinovyeva from Aalto University School of Business.

Probably the most important result of the paper is what they didn't find: any significant improvement in female applicants' odds of advancement.

"Evaluation is probably not the biggest problem" for women's advancement, says Bagues.

"Our feeling after all this research is that there are somewhat deeper problems with representation," says Zinovyeva. "So the focus of policymakers should probably shift to something else than having, for instance, gender quotas in tenure committees."

The study appears in the April 2017 issue of the American Economic Review.

Explore further: Female bosses favour gay and lesbian job-seekers, research finds

More information: Manuel Bagues et al. Does the Gender Composition of Scientific Committees Matter?, American Economic Review (2017). DOI: 10.1257/aer.20151211

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