Monday, September 14, 2015

What Works: Gender Equality by Design

Imagine the following situation: You are a young professional musician. And you are really good. Music is what makes your blood flow. Ever since you were a little girl, piano and violin lessons excited you rather than bored you. Today is a very important day for you: You're auditioning for a position in the National Symphony Orchestra. How would you feel if you knew that the minute you walked on stage, before even playing your instrument, your chances of being hired would decrease significantly?

Before research showed that having musicians audition behind a curtain, so the jury would not be able to tell their gender, increased the chance that a woman would be hired or promoted, and that these "blind" auditions alone could account for a third of the increase in the proportion of women musicians hired into top-tier American symphonies, female musicians would face just that scenario. The implicit biases of possibly well-meaning members of the jury would too often reduce women's chances to succeed in the audition.

Although we would all like to think we do not suffer from the same biases as the members of those juries, the opposite is likely true. During the first HKS Women and Public Policy Program seminar of the academic year, Professor Iris Bohnet explained that we are all biased in one way or another, "because seeing is believing". We observe patterns in the world, such as most kindergarten teachers being female, or most software engineers being male, so we come to expect people to fill those roles. Don't believe it? Take the test yourself.

Professor Bohnet is the Director of the HKS Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP) and Co-chair of the Behavioral Insights Group at the Center for Public Leadership at HKS. During the seminar, she presented a preview of her forthcoming book “What Works: Gender Equality by Design”, in which she argues that we can use insights we learn from Behavioral Economics to close gender gaps caused by implicit biases.

Professor Iris Bohnet, Director of the HKS Women and Public Policy Program
These insights allow us to create “nudges", which are small actions designed to obtain the most desirable reactions from people, building on knowledge of how the -often irrational- human mind actually works. In the book, she talks about "nudges we can use to make the world a better place", because they can reframe the environments in which we work. Best of all, they are mostly cheap and can be introduced quickly.

Professor Bohnet described previous approaches to increasing diversity in the workforce, such as diversity, leadership, and negotiation training, and underscored that there is not enough evidence to prove that these interventions work. On the other hand, interventions like long-term capacity-building or mentoring have been found to be very promising. In a study that followed the career trajectories of women economics professors who were randomly assigned into a long term mentorship program, the professors in the program fared better than those in the control group.

She mentioned many other nudges to redesign the work environment, like putting up more images of female leaders -"what you see matters in what you think is possible for yourself"-, avoiding panel interviews, assessing job candidates on a pre-determined set of questions immediately after the interview, highlighting the increased presence of gender mixed corporate boards rather than their low proportion, and many more. Professor Bohnet is handing in the manuscript for the book next week, so look forward to reading more when it comes out!

No comments:

Post a Comment