How Diversity of Search Committees Impacts Diversity of Applicant Pools

employee diversity
Topic(s): diversity, fairness, selection
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2021)
Article: Search Committee Diversity and Applicant Pool Representation of Women and Underrepresented Minorities: A Quasi-Experimental Field Study
Authors: M.A. Kazmi, C. Spitzmueller, J. Yu, J.M. Madera, A.S. Tsao, J.F. Dawson, I. Pavlidis
Reviewed by: Josie Anker

Diversity is important and beneficial for organizations, but organizations often struggle to increase their diversity. One method to increase diversity is to increase the diversity of job applicant pools (the entire group of people who apply for a job). It is important to have diverse applicant pools in order to eventually increase diversity within an organization, because organizations often would not know about and cannot hire someone who has not applied for the job. 


Researchers (Kazmi et al., 2021) examined how the demographic diversity of search committees may lead to more diverse applicant pools for open faculty positions at a large university. Diversity of a search committee may matter because people tend to have more social connections with others of the same gender or race, and these connections can be used to inform others of an open position. Additionally, women and URM (underrepresented minorities) who serve on search committees may be more active in trying to reach a diverse set of potential applicants in an attempt to lessen structural barriers they face in academic settings. 

The authors found that having a woman search committee chair (as opposed to a man) was related to a 23% increase in the number of women applicants. Additionally, having a URM search committee chair (as opposed to a non-URM) was related to a 118% increase in the number of URM applicants. Similarly, having greater proportions of women and URM on search committees was related to having more women and URM applicants.

The authors further found that the link between having a woman search committee chair and the greater number of women applicants was explained by women search committee chairs appointing more women to the search committee. However, this pattern of results was not found for URMs. This may be because women chairs (vs. men chairs) may be more likely to use their personal networks to identify potential applicants, but URM chairs (vs. non-URM chairs) do not. However, URM chairs (vs. non-URM chairs) use more formal methods of reaching diverse applicants, such as posting job ads on women/minority-specific websites and cooperating more with administrative offices for recruitment, retention, equity, and diversity.


This study shows that having women and URM search committee chairs and members is related to increased diversity of job applicant pools. Increasing the diversity of applicant pools is an important precursor to increasing diversity within an organization. Therefore, organizations are encouraged to increase the diversity of their recruitment teams in order to increase the chances that more diverse people will apply.

Additionally, the authors suggest different strategies organizations can use to increase applicant pool diversity. These strategies include posting a job ad on women/minority specific websites; working with organizational diversity and inclusion offices to form a diverse list of candidates; and using personal networks to reach and recruit job applicants.


Kazmi, M. A., Spitzmueller, C., Yu, J., Madera, J. M., Tsao, A. S., Dawson, J. F., & Pavlidis, I. (2021). Search committee diversity and applicant pool representation of women and underrepresented minorities: A quasi-experimental field study. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.