Do Women Keep Women from Being Promoted?
Recent headlines reported a new study finding "women bosses can wreck other women's promotion hopes." The authors hypothesize a "Queen Bee Syndrome" where higher-up females keep the others down. I've spoken to several women with corporate experience who buy this story. But, over at Catalyzing, Christine Silva makes a less than convincing argument for why this research is flawed.
I actually agree that the research is flawed, though for very different reasons than Silva suggests. Without getting too technical, the main drawback of the study is that men and women on average work in very different types of firms. In the data used, 16% of males and 55% of females have female supervisors. This alone suggests big differences in corporate cultures, which will naturally affect how superiors relate to subordinates. In turn, this could bias the study's estimated effects.
What we'd like is for subordinates to be randomly assigned a male or female superior. We could then see if this influences whether they get promoted. I've described before how economists try to construct such a "counter-factual." But we could never hope for such random assignment, right?
Women Help Men Get the Job
It turns out, there is a recent, well-executed study with random assignment that can help us understand this issue. Using data on Spanish committees evaluating candidates for judicial jobs, two economists find that committees with a majority of female evaluators are more likely to select a male job candidate.
What is great about this study is that all the concerns discussed above are moot. Job candidates were randomly assigned to be evaluated by a committee. Committees had varying numbers of women which therefore allowed the researchers to estimate the impact of committee gender composition on male and female candidates.
This is much stronger evidence that women may prevent other females from winning jobs or being promoted. Now we need to try and understand why.