Underrepresentation, Quotas and Quality: A dynamic argument for reform
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- Discussion papers (SAM) 
The trade-off between increased representation and perceived quality is central to the debate on how to address underrepresentation in high-profile professions. We address this trade-off using a dynamic model of career selection where juniors value both the identity and perceived quality of their mentors (seniors). A preference for homophily results in the persistence of underrepresentation, suggesting intervention is needed. However, if an abrupt quota causes a large decrease in the perceived quality of underrepresented seniors, then underrepresented juniors of high talent will select out of the profession, causing a permanent (real) quality difference. Encouragingly, we show that gradual reform—while decreasing perceived quality in the short term—enables a transition to equal representation and equal quality in the long term. We discuss the implications of our analysis for commonly-used measures to increase representation.