“To improve workplace equity, we need to debias systems, not people.”
– Iris Bohnet
The 2023 Nobel Prize for Economics went to Claudia Goldin for her research on gender and labor markets.
Dr. Goldin’s work has revealed that women are paid less than men when working the same jobs and that this wage gap increases after a woman gives birth for the first time.
She is also the co-author of a landmark 1997 study on 'blind auditions' in symphony orchestras in the United States which helped create a movement among researchers to fight gender bias at work and encourage the hiring of more women.
So what works in the fight against gender bias and workplace discrimination?
Today, thankfully, we have a more nuanced picture of what works and what doesn’t.
But how do we debias systems?
Behavioral scientists are working hard to detangle existing research as well as conduct new experiments, to be able to separate between recommendations that work (and for whom) and current practices that have minimal impact.
Here’s what stands out:
Normalize flexible working
What are some practical, real-world changes that would make flexible working more widely available, easy to take up and valued?
BIT worked in partnership with Indeed, Zurich Insurance, John Lewis & Partners, Defence, Equipment & Support, Santander and Predictiv and came up with the following actions for managers:
Advertise specific flexible working options in all vacancies
Make part-time and flexible working the default
Communicate that employees can choose the flexible working arrangements that will best work for them
Share widespread support for new flexible working patterns to encourage others to work flexibly too
Ask managers to hire for more than one job at a time
Diversity is a property of groups, not individuals. When hiring decisions are made in isolation, with only one person being hired at a time, diversity simply just isn’t that salient to decision-makers. As a result, they typically prioritize technical skills, cultural fit, or speed of candidate start date.
Ask managers to hire for more than one job at a time. For instance, rather than hiring one individual monthly, a company might benefit from consolidating decisions and hiring three individuals each quarter.
Make diversity more salient in the promotion process
Promotions often focus on a candidate's track record and potential, sidelining diversity. To promote diversity during promotion decisions, encourage managers to evaluate the diversity of their entire list of nominees and assess whether their choices can help bridge representation gaps in their team.
Keep the training but make it matter
In most organizations, diversity training occurs during onboarding or on an annual basis, which is often far removed from the time when consequential hiring, promotion, or performance-evaluation decisions are made.
Consider having managers undergo a brief diversity training immediately before making HR decisions. Because the training is administered just prior to the decision-making process, it is more likely to keep diversity, equity, and inclusion top of mind and motivate managers to make more equitable choices.
For a complete guide of what works and what doesn’t (as of now), have a look at this research by the Behavioural Insights Team on approaches that have been shown to improve outcomes for gender equality. It also indicates those which need more evidence before they can be recommended as widespread approaches.
Diversity is not just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do.
A diverse team can promote higher productivity as employees with different strengths and experiences complement one another and bring different skills and experiences to the table. It can also lead to new ideas and solutions when workers feel comfortable bringing their unique perspectives to the team.
Question for you
What is one thing you can do at your workplace today to encourage diversity?