Interactions with powerful female colleagues promote diversity in hiring
What is this research about and why did you do it?
We started this research with the aim of uncovering whether working closely with people from underrepresented backgrounds changes the attitudes or actions of people from majority backgrounds. This question is important since, for example, increasing diversity in the workplace could reduce prejudice, discrimination, and thus inequality in the long-run.
There is a wealth of evidence showing that young people’s attitudes change when they interact with people different from themselves, but little evidence for older, established professionals. Our aim was to understand the decisions of older, established professionals because these are often the people with the power to provide opportunities to others.
How did you answer this question?
This question is challenging because established professionals usually choose who to work with. Thus, people with diverse colleagues would likely be less prejudiced even if having diverse colleagues doesn’t affect prejudice. As a result, we needed a context where professionals are assigned colleagues at random.
We found that context in the Federal Appellate Courts. Appellate judges hear cases on panels of three, and are randomly assigned to panels. At the same time, judges regularly hire law clerks, and have broad discretion over hires.
We thus examine whether judges are more likely to hire female clerks in years where they heard cases with a larger-than-expected number of female colleagues.
What did you find?
We find that hearing cases with female colleagues significantly increases the likelihood that a male judge will hire a female clerk. Specifically, a 10 percentage-point increase in the share of cases heard with female colleagues (for instance, from 25% to 35%) increases the likelihood that a male judge will hire a female clerk in the following year by 7.1 percentage points. This effect is large: it suggests that appointing a female judge to an appellate court would lead male colleagues to hire 5 more female clerks over a decade. While we do not find evidence of a long-term effect, this is not surprising because judges hear new cases, with new colleagues, each year.
This figure shows the effect of a 10 percentage point increase in the share of cases heard alongside female co-panelists on a judge’s likelihood of hiring at least one female clerk in each year before and after the cases are heard. Consistent with random assignment to cases, we find no relationship between the gender of a judge’s colleagues and hiring decisions made before the interactions take place. We find a strong, positive, relationship between interaction with female colleagues and hiring decisions the year after the interactions take place, but no persistent effect in subsequent years.
What implications does this have for the research on wealth concentration or economic inequality?
This study suggests that meaningful interactions with people from marginalized or minority group can change the decisions made by powerful people. The positive side of this is that increasing the diversity at the top of a profession could help diversify hiring at the entry-level of that profession. The negative side is that in competitive markets, prejudices tend to produce segregation. Our research suggests that segregation might in turn maintain prejudice.
What are the next steps in your agenda?
First, we would like to investigate how interacting with racial and ethnic minority judges and lawyers, as well as hearings of racially polarized decisions, affects hiring decisions. Second, we want to examine the effect of early career opportunities on career trajectories using data on law clerks.
In order to pursue this agenda, we will need to purchase additional data from the Leadership Libraries. As a result, we welcome suggestions for grant funding to support this work.
Citation and related resources
This paper can be cited as follows: Battaglini, M., Harris, J., and Patacchini, E. (Forthcoming) "Interactions with powerful female colleagues promote diversity in hiring." Journal of Labour Economics.