Monday, February 8, 2016

What Works: Gender Equality By Design (Part 2!)

Fresh from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Professor Iris Bohnet presented the second half of her forthcoming book “What Works: Gender Equality by Design” at the first HKS WAPPP Seminar of the spring semester.  Professor Bohnet had presented the first half of her book at the first WAPPP Seminar in the fall, and the group was eager to hear more about her focus on “de-biasing organizations” rather than “de-biasing mindsets.”

Professor Bohnet is the Director of the HKS Women and Public Policy Program and Co-chair of the Behavioral Insights Group at the Center for Public Leadership at HKS. Her research demonstrates a powerful truth: No matter how well-intentioned they are, people can still fall prey to bias. Instead of trying to break people of these often unintentional biases, we should be looking to organizational design to “make it easier for all of us to do the right thing.”

The limits of diversity training

Professor Bohnet began with a survey of existing interventions to overcome bias in the workplace, including diversity training, negotiation training, leadership training, mentorship and sponsorship, and networking. Despite being a billion-dollar industry, the evidence on diversity training is mixed. After hundreds of studies, it is hard to be optimistic about diversity training, if only because it is incredibly difficult to de-bias minds. Beyond stereotypical thinking, humans rely on a number of other cognitive shortcuts that are very difficult to unlearn.

The rest of these interventions are geared toward helping women navigate the workforce more effectively. One critique of this approach is that it places the onus of fixing gender discrimination on women. However, it is important to be pragmatic and to consider how these methods can be helpful. The evidence from mentorship and sponsorship networks is particularly encouraging. Female economists who participated in mentorship training workshops were more productive, more likely to publish in peer-reviewed journals, and more likely to get tenure. This is some of the best causal evidence to date about the impact of mentorship and sponsorship and demonstrates the positive impact of these interventions.

Using behavioral insights to move the needle

Behavioral insights and organizational design present an opportunity to develop novel interventions to decrease bias and improve diversity. For organizations looking to attract the best candidates, Professor Bohnet suggests they look at the language in their job advertisements. She presented a job advertisement for a teacher reading in part, “Looking for a warm and caring teacher with exceptional pedagogical and interpersonal skills to work in a supportive, collaborative work environment.” Gendered language like this resonates with women rather than men and can inhibit great male teachers from applying. And with boys falling about a year behind girls in reading and writing by age 15, partially because of the lack of male role models among their teachers, it makes a difference.

There are numerous behavioral interventions that workplaces can develop to overcome bias. Two simple things organizations can start with: get rid of “potential” rankings in employee evaluation, and stop managers from seeing employees’ self-evaluations before giving their own rankings. There is an enormous amount of bias in potential rankings. In another iteration of “seeing is believing,” a lack of female senior partners at a firm may lead to biased thinking that women don’t have the potential or desire to ascend the career ladder. While it’s not clear how to get rid of this bias, it is simple enough to remove potential rankings altogether in evaluating employees. Similarly, there can be a significant difference in employee rankings. On average, women are inclined to give themselves lower self-evaluation scores than men. If managers can see employees’ self-evaluations before making their own judgments, they may be influenced by these scores and give women lower scores (and men higher) than they otherwise would.  Instead, the manager could have conversations with team members about their performance, but wait to see a numerical self-evaluation until after they have made their own evaluations. These two findings are low-hanging fruit for organizations looking to reduce workplace bias; research increasingly shows that mindsets change once behavior has changed, and these low-impact methods reduce the effect of bias in the workplace.

Gender diversity in teams

In recent years, the “business case for diversity”—evidence that more diverse organizations do better than those that are more homogeneous—has attracted a lot of attention. A meta-analysis of 120 studies finds a small diversity premium for diverse corporate boards. However, these studies are just observational: it could be that diversity really does pay, or that companies that are high-performing are also more inclusive. One study measuring collective intelligence found that gender diverse teams outperformed homogeneous teams on each of the tested tasks. Gender diverse teams demonstrated complementary skill sets and a greater tendency to listen to and build on others’ ideas. Gender diverse teams are much more likely to avoid groupthink, which increases their effectiveness.

However, Professor Bohnet emphasized, we should care about gender equality because it’s the right thing to do, not just because of the business case for diversity. In closing, she discussed several organizational improvements that could encourage equitable behavior, including a “comply or explain” system for corporate diversity. Goal setting, transparency, and accountability all play a crucial role in changing behavior and, by extension, changing mindsets. Professor Bohnet’s book is available on March 4—be on the lookout for more bias-reducing, diversity-maximizing insights!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Training the next generation of political leaders

HKS students in Oval Office training session.
Here at the Women and Public Policy Program, we are dedicated to closing gender gaps in economic opportunity, health, education and political participation. Research shows us that women are far less likely to run for office than equally qualified men, even though when they run, they win just as often and change social norms around gender. That’s why WAPPP, supported by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, offers the “From Harvard Square to the Oval Office” program every year targeted to female graduate students aspiring to hold political office.

Refinery 29, in partnership with We Are the XX, created a video that explains how women are changing the political scene – and public policy priorities – in the City of Boston. It features Boston City Councilor and Oval Office Alumna Michelle Wu as well as Councilor-Elect Andrea Campbell. Both women discuss the unlikely paths that brought them to politics and share advice for young women considering public office. Adrienne Kimmell, Executive Director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, is also interviewed in the video about the barriers for women in Massachusetts politics.

For more on how women in political leadership help to narrow the gender gap, visit the Political Representation section of WAPPP's Gender Action Portal

Monday, November 23, 2015

Gender Inequality: A Comparative View of the Challenges Ahead

The WAPPP Seminar this week was very special. Professor Mary C. Brinton, Department Chair of the Department of Sociology at Harvard and Professor Claudia Goldin, Henry Lee Professor of Economics also at Harvard, introduced the new Weatherhead Initiative on Comparative Gender Inequality (WIGI) at the University to "study comparative gender inequality in OECD countries and outline some of the major scholarly and policy challenges relating to the structure of work and its articulation with the family". This is an exciting three-year interdisciplinary, cross-Harvard project, that will work closely with WAPPP at HKS, but whose creation is motivated by a set of very specific questions that are increasingly important for post-industrial economies:
  • Why are some industrialized countries moving rapidly towards gender equality while others are not?
  • Why are changes in gender roles producing more household disruption in some rich societies than in others?
  • How will US households share care duties for seniors?
  • How do changes in the welfare state differently affect the wellbeing of men and women?
  • How can public policy facilitate the dual earner/dual caregiver model?
  • How can employers level playing field for all genders?
  • What are the economic and productivity implications of not fully integrating high human capital women into the workforce?  
  Professor Claudia Goldin presents the Weatherhead Initiative on Gender Inequality

To answer these difficult questions, WIGI's first task is to build a community of students and scholars that are committed to studying these topics. There will be a strong focus on bringing in undergraduates, in fact, two of the first three events in Spring of 2016 will involve undergraduate seniors and juniors who will present their senior thesis research or will begin working on one. Graduate students are also welcome and expected to play a significant role.
WIGI will work on the intersections of different thematic areas each year. In the first year, the focus will be the intersection of labor markets and household decisions related to gender. The second year will address issues at the intersection of household decisions and public policy, and the third will feature activities involving labor markets and public policy.
  Professor Mary C. Brinton
Professor Brinton went further into detail about the topic of discussion for WIGI's first year. She started by showing the situation of workers in a place with which everybody in the audience was very familiar: Harvard University. Using the 2013 Faculty Climate Survey, she showed the number of hours per day that faculty allotted to work and to domestic and care duties, and found that although male and female faculty work the same amount of hours, the women at all levels of seniority engage in significantly more hours of housework than their male counterparts. This difference is much larger for Junior Faculty. On average, female tenured faculty members put in ten more hours of work in the home than male tenured faculty. Untenured female professors put in twenty more hours than male untenured professors. "This is very, very local," the Professor warned, "this is us".
Female faculty at Harvard spend 10-20 more hrs. 
on domestic work than male faculty
She also spoke about higher relative stress levels for female faculty, with some of the most common cited reasons being childcare and children's education. She explained that on the one hand, women have become increasingly educated, and their college graduation levels now surpass the men's in developed economies, but that on the other hand, not much has changed in the domestic arena, where women are expected to work more. This tension, she believes, is a driving force behind lower fertility rates and the aging populations in rich countries: "It's really, really hard to work full time and be mothers".
She then discussed the case of Japan, where she conducts a good amount of her research, and where this phenomenon is producing difficult consequences. Fertility rates in Japan have been under population replacement level, that is, under 2 children per woman, for over thirty years. The country is running out of a labor force, but the model has not yet become friendly to a dual earner-dual caregiver family model. Instead, many highly skilled women are pushed out of the labor force when they become mothers by a context that requires long working hours of both genders and does not provide incentives for males to take part in caregiving duties.
Professor Goldin continued this discussion by touching the topic of occupations, to see what makes some more friendly for the dual family model than others. She mentioned how sometimes the gender wage gap is explained by stating the fact that women tend to go into lower-paying, care-related occupations, and used data evidencing within-occupation pay gaps to show how that explanation is incomplete. For example, women in finance can earn up to 35% less than men in finance, while women in tech are earning 10% less than males in that sector.
But why is there a gap between occupations? She explained this by pointing out an important difference in the wage structures of each field. Using O*NET data from the Department of Labor, she showed that the gender gap is larger in occupations like finance, where there is a linear relationship between earnings and hours worked, than in tech, where people are remunerated more based on output. The latter structure favors women because, as was mentioned, they face higher demand for their time outside the workplace. In industries where there is temporal flexibility, women thrive (although it remains noteworthy that even in these fields there is still a gap, albeit smaller).
She suggested that a possible way to make any workplace more time-flexible would be to make employees more interchangeable. If in each workplace there are two workers who can easily substitute for each other at any point, they will have much more freedom to step in and out at times that work for them. This model can free men and women to take on more roles in the home. You can "fix the men", you can "fix the women", but until you actually "fix the firms and the occupations", modify the whole model, inequality will persist, she argued. 
Want to stay updated about activities related to this promising new initiative? Email to subscribe to the mailing list!

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Advantage of Being Oneself: The Role of Self-verification in a Successful Job Search

Who hasn't heard the advice? Smile? Check. Firm handshake? Check. But not too firm? Check. Smart business suit, preferably in a boring color? Check. Clean Facebook/Twitter/Instagram page? Check. Check. Check. Acing a job interview can be difficult work. And even if you nail the interview, you may only be one of many. It is estimated that between 10 and 40 people will apply for any given job in the United States. How can you stand out amongst a stream of applicants who are all encouraged to act and look homogeneous? In this week's WAPPP Seminar, Dr. Celia Moore, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the London Business School shared two studies that can answer that question (in a somewhat unexpected way): Just be yourself! How exactly does a researcher reach that conclusion? How can she measure the degree to which people are being themselves in real life?

Dr. Moore uses a tool that measures people's tendency towards what is known as self-verification. It is an eight item questionnaire that gages the level of need a person has to express their true thoughts and feelings to others. It includes statements such as For me, it is better to be honest about myself when meeting new people even if it makes me appear less than ideal, or I'd be willing to take less pay in order to work with people who know who I am and what to expect from me, to which people record a level of agreement or disagreement. People who report a high level of agreement to this kind of statement are referred to as self-verifiers in Moore's research. They have a high need to express their true selves.  What does this look like? "We don't know how this trait manifests itself behaviorally," she explained, "it is a very intangible but predictive trait". And what does it predict exactly?

Dr. Moore: Knowing the 'right' answer to 250
interview questions may not help you all that much
Dr. Moore studied a graduating class of MBA students that was interviewing for jobs. She rated them on their level of self-verification and then observed whether or not they received a job offer. For those who were rated by interviewers as low or medium quality, the degree to which they self-verified hardly mattered (and even hurt a bit in the case of low quality applicants). In contrast, for highly qualified candidates, self-verification boosted their likelihood of receiving an offer from 51% to 69% (when all other factors, like race, gender, and experience, remained equal). She offered the example of Anne Hathaway's character in the movie The Devil Wears Prada: By being highly qualified for a job but still honest about her possibly undesirable traits, she was able to land the job she asked for.

Job Interview Dont's? Maybe they are Do's!
To hone in on the nuances of this effect, Dr. Moore conducted another study, this time about the entry process into two highly selective working groups. The first was the legal corps in a U.S. military branch, and the second was a program to place international school teachers in a U.S. district. Each field was highly gendered, with the military working team receiving a group of applicants that was two thirds male, while the teaching program received a cohort that was two thirds female. The results of the study suggest that gender and self-verification interact in very different ways for different groups.

Within the set of high quality applicants seeking the teaching job, the women who were self-verifiers increased their likelihood of being hired by 29 percentage points when compared to low self-verifying women, from 46% to 75%. Men, of whom there is a shortage in that field, went from 68% as low self-verifiers to 71% as high self-verifiers. Conversely, in the male dominated field, women were the "scare commodity", so their likelihood of being hired was high regardless of self-verification level, much like the men in teaching. In this case though, high self-verification slightly decreased their likelihood of getting hired, from 25% to 23%. In contrast, for men, who were facing a field of similar candidates, self-verification provided a significant boost, from 1% to 13%. So it seems that when you need to stand out among a group of people similar to you, self-verification is important.

Because this research "contradicts common aspirations about how to succeed in the job market", and explains the nuances about people in gender congruent and gender incongruent fields, it can be very valuable for both men and women. Related research shows that self-verifiers in the long run report higher job satisfaction, ability to function in a working group, and overall higher performance on the job. So Moore concludes the findings are pointing us in a very healthy direction: Be yourself and you will be better off!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Can Symbolic Awards Really Motivate? Evidence from a Field Experiment at Wikipedia

ICan symbolic awards motivate individuals to contribute their ideas and knowledge to a common project? This is the question that Jana Gallus, Postdoctoral Fellow with the Behavioral Insights Group at the Harvard Kennedy School, asked in her research, presented at the latest WAPPP Seminar. She found the answer by going where many professors tell students never to go for reliable information: Wikipedia.
Dr. Gallus talking about Wikipedia's editor retention problem
Wikipedia can be an enigma to economists. It is a place where motivated souls go to work for no pay. It has been enormously successful at compiling massive amounts of human knowledge through the sheer dedication of "Wikipedians", who put in time and effort to produce online articles on a range of topics. Unfortunately, initial excitement over the site peaked and the number of editors has been on a downward trend ever since. The situation is a significant problem for Wikipedia. Fortunately, they ran into Gallus, an economist who is contributing to the emerging literature on awards, who had some ideas about how to resolve this problem. 

Awards come in many shapes and sizes. There's great variety of fields, awarding parties, prize components, and periodicities. Dr. Gallus argues that there are important differences between ex ante awards that are previously announced and select winners through clear criteria, such as contests or performance-based awards, and what she calls ex post awards, that are presented for an achievement after the fact, and where the receiving party may not even be aware that they are eligible for an award. Examples of the former type could be an innovation contest where contestants enter to win, or a company bonus for the best sales performance, whereas examples of the latter can include something like a Pulitzer Prize, an Academy Award, or a Nobel Prize. Gallus ran a field experiment at Wikipedia to identify whether ex post awards could be used as motivational tools for newcomers to a field or whether they were only effective as metaphorical crowns for individuals who are already high-achieving.

Wikipedia and Dr. Gallus created a digital badge, the Edelweiss Flower, that would be randomly awarded to new editors on the website (she made sure to implement a rules-based preselection to filter out, for instance, vandals and corporate accounts, so they wouldn't receive anything). Out of the 4,007 editors that first joined Wikipedia in that role between September 2012 and July 2013, 1,617 were included in an award cohort and 2,390 were in the control group, receiving nothing and unaware that the experiment was even happening. The "honored" editors would receive a message thanking them for their contribution and informing them that they had been awarded the Edelweiss. The message included the image of the "medal", which users quickly made into a badge that could be displayed on their profile.

Did users who receive the award stay on as editors more than those who did not? Yes! 43.5% of the editors who did not receive the award did not come back, but only 34.8% of those honored left. A very noticeable difference! What is more is that this effect can be causally attributed to the granting of the award, because the treatment and the control group are virtually no different except for this factor. Gallus commented that theory would explain this observed effect by positing that 1) the badge gives people status, "it gives them reputational capital that they can later use", in her words; 2) they also derive social identity through this kind of categorization, and finally, 3) they value recognition from others. She also found statistically significant effects extending up to six months after the new editors received the Edelweiss.

Though impressive, her work with Wikipedia is far from over. The online encyclopedia identified a very wide gender gap through a survey of editors, and they are looking for ways to close it. Currently, more than 80% of Wikipedia editors are men. Gallus hypothesizes that this may be due to lack of free time, a "harsh" online forum culture, or even "self-stereotyping". Ways to tweak the awards so they may be enticing for women could be to vary the degree of publicity, consider group awards, use bottom-up nomination mechanisms, de-bias juries, and of course, favor ex post awards. As more and more knowledge is produced and stored in places like Wikipedia, her important work will contribute to increase the amount of women sharing ideas and furthering human knowledge.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Girls of War: 1914 and 2014

The work of Dr. Laura Sjoberg focuses on gender and just war theory. She is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida, where she uses gender-based and feminist approaches to the study of international security. In this week's WAPPP Seminar, she discussed the ways that war narratives can help perpetuate and fuel war, highlighting the crucial role of the depiction of women and girls in the process.

War narratives are stories of wars told to citizens. They are important because “stories we tell of wars is a part of what makes them possible”, Dr. Sjoberg argues. According to her, narratives about war form the foundation for people to be motivated to fight, both at individual level, but also at the national level. How does this happen?
Dr. Sjoberg argues that narratives about war are part of what makes them happen
There is a model of the ideal soldier. It is conveyed through a narrative. This soldier fights in the war bravely, but his motivation for being there is not the enjoyment of violence or the thrill of war, rather, this soldier is fighting 'the good fight'. He is a 'Just Warrior'. This is often translated into fighting that is necessary to 'save' the women and children back home from a foreign evil that encroaches upon them. She illustrated this idea by referring to a Nazi slogan that exclaimed: "Don't Let the Red Beast Rape Our Women!".
The 'Just Warrior' must enlist to protect the
'Beautiful Soul' from the 'Mad Brute'

While clarifying that she is not making a claim that women do not engage in combat or that men are not civilians, she said that her research is arguing that war narratives are gendered. They frame women very seldom not as women but as girls, but more importantly, as a 'Beautiful Soul'. This soul is pure and innocent. This soul must be protected by the 'Just Warrior'.

Dr. Sjoberg uses the images of war to convey how these narratives circulate among us and reach our consciousness. During the First World War, the U.S. military alone produced more than 300 images for recruitment posters, as did other countries. The images portray the different ways in which the 'Beautiful Soul' participated in the war effort. In some instances, the woman is shown helpless; in others, she is shaming the man into participating in a war in which he would have been otherwise reticent to participate. Finally, there was the image of the woman as threat: “Pure innocent women are the things you should fight for, women who don’t meet that mold are the things you should fight against.” The posters depicting the latter showed women who could be carriers of venereal disease. 'Loose' women were the foreign women present in the country where the fighting was happening. They were unlike the women back home, they were not to be protected, quite the opposite, the soldier had to protect himself from them.

Women encouraging men into the fight
How are the women of the 1914 war similar or different from the women of war in 2014? Dr. Sjoberrg chose to concentrate on the abduction of 200 Nigerian girls by Boko Haram and the imagery created around that horrifying event to make the comparison.

Posters made by Nigerians call for a stop in this kind of incidents, pointing out that this was not the first instance of abduction, and in fact, it had happened multiple times. This case caught the eye of the public because it fit this narrative of helpless and innocent girls being taken to be enslaved and violated. The 'Just Warrior' should bring them back.

The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, according to Sjoberg, can depict the beautiful sentiment of kinship among human kind by calling the girls 'ours', but at the same time, she argues, it carries the possessive claims with colonialist undertones. "The intent is beautiful, the effect is violent", she said.

Carefully clarifying that she did not have enough evidence to claim this with confidence, she shared that she sensed that the shift in the narrative revolving around the girls, from being innocent school girls to potential threats in the news pieces that claimed that Boko Haram could use them as suicide bombers, developed as a result of the painful realization that they would not be saved. The policy claim to protection does not equal actual protection for women in wars, she explained, "women are by definition being protected, in reality, it isn't being offered." She reminded the audience that domestic violence tends to rise in countries that are engaged in war. In this way, the State has a "claim to fame" as a protector of the innocent, but within its borders, the protection is amiss. In the end, the girls are still missing, no matter how viral the hashtag became. "Armchair activism is a really big problem in something like this".

The session ended with Dr. Sjoberg's prediction about the changing nature of the U.S. armed forces with increasing presence of women in combat. “Putting women in structures... does not change the institution”, she notes. Equality is much more than that.

Dr. Sjoberg is the author of several books and academic publications on international relations, gender, and law. Follow her research to learn more.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What Happens to Minority Women When We Eliminate Affirmative Action?

President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925 in 1961 introducing Affirmative Action to the American workplace. More than 40 years later, the ramifications still deeply affect millions of lives. Affirmative Action was a way to provide a more level playing field for groups that faced systemic discrimination. It initially included protected groups such as racial and ethnic minorities, but President Johnson extended it to include women as well. It had positive employment and occupational advancement effect, especially for minority women, allowing them to participate in work spheres that were previously inaccessible to them (Kurtulus 2012, Kurtulus 2015).

In 1996, California became the first state to repeal Affirmative Action in state and local government employment with the passing of Proposition 209. In the next years, other states such as Washington, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and New Hampshire did away with it as well. In this week's HKS WAPPP Seminar, Dr. Fidan Ana Kurtulus, Associate Professor Department of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, talked about her latest paper, which looks at the consequences of these bans on minority and female employment.

Professor Fidan Ana Kurtulus, UMASS Amherst
The repeals of Affirmative Action in these states presented the opportunity to study what researchers refer to as a 'natural experiment'. The bans were an exogenous shock that allowed Kurtulus to study the before and after share of minorities and women in the workforce of state and local government agencies where the bans went into effect as compared to the before and after shares of minority employment in places where Affirmative Action remained in place.

Another unique feature of her research is the dataset she worked with. The EEO-4 dataset has not been generally available to researches. It is a dataset that contains the demographic characteristics of  employees of state and local agencies, and covers a long time span, from 1990 to 2009. “There had not been any scientific researchers that had used these data in its full form”, explained Kurtulus, adding that she was excited to be working with this resource.

And while the dataset itself is interesting, the results of her research are even more so. Kurtulus found that once Affirmative Action is repealed, the share of Hispanic men that work in state or local government decreases by 7%; the share of black women goes down by 4%, and the share of Asian women is reduced by 37%. The figure for Asian women might seem disproportionately large but she explained that the reason for this is that there were very few Asian women in that workforce to begin with, so any change would produce a large effect. In all, the loss of workplace diversity is significant.

 “Can these results say anything to people that oppose Affirmative Action?" Kurtulus asked, and answered her own question with an emphatic 'yes', this is "data driven evidence on the implications of removing Affirmative Action". In addition, the findings are very timely. "It is very timely because other states are considering the possibility of banning Affirmative Action... A lot of the debate is really being driven by rhetoric that is not empirical in nature", she commented. This research can bridge that gap, so we can hold a debate on this issue that is better informed.