Nov 29, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

We often talk about the importance of gender diversity on college campuses -- particularly as it relates to institutional leadership. Now more concrete evidence on the value of female chairs has emerged. Read on for more information on a new working paper from economics PhD candidate Andrew Langan. 

An "Ideal Setting"

"Occupational segregation and earnings disparities by gender are two enduring features of the US labor market," argues the working paper. According to Langan, academia is the “ideal setting” to look more closely at the issue of whether the appointment of women to more leadership positions is an effective solution for these issues.

Specifically, the paper takes a closer look at the impact of female department chairs on outcomes including pay, promotion to tenure, research productivity, pay, and workplace representation among faculty and students in designated graduate departments.

The Diversity Imperative

The study’s findings were revealing. He writes, "I find female department chairs reduce gender gaps in publications and tenure for assistant professors and shrink the gender pay gap. Replacing a male chair with a female chair also increases the number of female students among incoming graduate cohorts by ten percent with no evidence of a change in ability correlates for the average student," he writes.

Also worth noting is that the research clarifies that women don’t always do better in women-led departments, nor do chairs of either gender necessarily favor students and peers of their own gender. Rather, the key takeaway has broader implications. "This research reinforces other findings that suggest managers from different backgrounds often take different approaches, highlighting the value of diversity among decision-makers."

Langan further suggests additional research is in order -- both to further understanding of gender disparities, and to "identify management practices that will help all individuals and academic departments achieve their full potential regardless of gender or other characteristics".

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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