Date Published:20 April 2016
Does encouragement help address gender imbalances in technical fields? We present the results of one of the first and largest randomized controlled trials on the topic. Using an applied statistics conference in the social sciences as our context, we randomly assigned half of a pool of 3,945 graduate students to receive two personalized emails encouraging them to apply (n = 1,976) and the other half to receive nothing (n = 1,969). We find a robust, positive effect associated with this simple intervention and suggestive evidence that women responded more strongly than men. However, we find that women’s conference acceptance rates are higher within the control group than in the treated group. This is not the case for men. The reason appears to be that female applicants in the treated group solicited supporting letters at lower rates. Our findings therefore suggest that “low dose” interventions may promote diversity in STEM fields but may also have the potential to expose underlying disparities when used alone or in a non-targeted way.