Stereotypes and preconceptions shape our sociopolitical reality maybe even to a bigger extent than facts and reason. The paper recently published in Science is contradicting one of such prejudices: the belief that affirmative actions, which are implemented to encourage women to enter competition, are not only unfair (discriminate male participants) but overall do more harm than good.
One of the biggest caveats of social sciences like economics or sociology is the fact that no control experiments are feasible to perform on general populations. Therefor any conclusions driven from data with no reference to controls have to be treated with particular caution. In recent years the laboratory controlled studies are gaining more and more attention from researchers in those fields and the study discussed here is an example of such approach.
In brief, the study performed on a group of undergraduate students shows that four different types of affirmative actions, equivalents of those implemented by some European countries in their policies, are not only effective and reach their goals in terms of increased participation of women, but also do not discriminate male competitors and don’t have any negative effects on post-competition group performance. The two latter arguments, which are not supported by any reliable research, are frequently risen to discredit gender equity policies. The study shows for example that women who enter the competition with extra points at the entry and win, are qualified enough and would have won with their male counterparts even without any preferential treatment (guys are not discriminated). Additionally, mixed gender teams in which women got some advantage perform not any worse then those where was no advantage. In other words: equal opportunities for females do not harm anyone.
More details here and here (subscription required).