Study finds female assessors on tenure committees less likely to appoint women than all-male panels

Including female assessors on a selection committee does not improve a female applicant’s chances of getting a professor or associate professor position, new research suggests.

Researchers at the Aalto University School of Business in Finland investigated the effect of gender makeup on committees’ decision making by getting 8000 randomly selected evaluators to assess 100,000 real applications for professorships in Italy and Spain. They found that when committees of assessors included more women, it did not improve outcomes for female applicants. In fact, including female assessors seemed to have the opposite effect, and committees with a higher proportion of women tended to be less favourable towards female candidates. Reports from individual assessors suggest male evaluators become less favourable toward female candidates as soon as a female evaluator joins the committee. Female evaluators on the other hand were not found to be significantly more or less favourable toward female candidates.

The researchers think one reason that might account for this is the ‘licensing’ effect, whereby a predominantly male panel that includes a woman feel they have a licence to be more critical towards female applicants, while an all-male panel would take extra care not to display gender bias. The findings suggest that quotas aiming to ensure female assessors are represented on selection committees, which have been introduced in countries such as Spain, may not be having a positive effect on the number of successful female candidates.