What Works | Iris Bohnet

Summary of: What Works: Gender Equality by Design
By: Iris Bohnet


Dive into the world of ‘What Works: Gender Equality by Design’ by Iris Bohnet, and uncover the power of behavioral design in breaking the barriers of gender inequality. Discover how unconscious biases have limited women’s opportunities in different aspects of life and hindered societal progress. By unraveling the key principles of de-biasing and the importance of data-driven approaches, this book equips you with the tools to restructure the environment and empower women at the workplace and beyond. Get ready to explore the impact of blind auditions on the representation of women in orchestras, the implications of gender-based negotiation styles, and the fascinating case of India’s constitution amendment for gender representation in village councils.

The Power of Blind Auditions

Orchestras shifted to blind auditions in the 1970s to address the gender disparity in the industry. Blind auditions involve judges hearing musicians play without being able to see them, allowing for an unbiased evaluation of skill. Unconscious biases led to the majority of performers being male before this change. The success of blind auditions has highlighted the importance of reducing biases in recruiting processes. Increased gender equality benefits society, expanding talent pools and increasing per capita income. Experimentation and trial and error are needed to find effective methods of promoting diversity.

De-Biasing: The Struggle to Achieve Equality in the Workplace

Unconscious bias exists in people’s perception of gender stereotypes at work, and it affects their thinking and behavior. Simple behavioral design and environmental changes can help de-bias the workplace. Gender bias awareness must move through several stages to work effectively, but diversity training programs don’t always work, or they can lead to moral licensing. Perspective-taking and thinking more clearly can foster equality. Guided awareness, change, and settling into new behavioral patterns are most effective in combating workplace bias.

Unconscious biases often distort people’s thinking, as well as their perceptions, at work. Individuals expect different things from men and women in the workplace, leading to gender stereotypes that limit women’s options as leaders. Behavioral design can help to change the environment around people, thus altering how they interact. People frequently rely on group characteristics to judge individuals, and this reliance on stereotypes prevents women from being seen as leaders. However, if women break from gender expectations, they’re seen as less likable.

Moreover, the mind applies social categorization, leading people to give greater weight to appearance than to verbal attributes. Women also show gender bias about themselves, which affects their perception of other women. Seeking fair solutions in a negotiation doesn’t work if self-serving bias comes into play since self-interest becomes more overpowering than fair consideration.

To counter workplace bias, people must first learn that it’s possible and how it distorts judgment. They then need to provide feedback to those experiencing bias and receive training, coaching, and analysis. Although most people don’t try to change their behavior, diversity training programs are offered, but they don’t always work. Such programs can even be associated with a small drop in diversity.

Perspective-taking is a way to put oneself in another’s place or imagine someone else’s feelings, which helps promote ethical considerations. Training people to think more clearly and fostering equality can help combat gender bias in the workplace. Companies can use guided awareness, change, and settling into new behavioral patterns to help trainees become aware of their biases. Overall, combating workplace bias can be difficult, but it’s worth the effort to achieve equality in the workplace.

Unveiling the Gender Bias in Negotiations

Women are less comfortable negotiating than men. Studies reveal that negotiation partners often react differently based on the gender of the person. Men rarely face negative consequences for asking for higher salaries, whereas women are less likely to receive a positive response. Women’s reluctance to negotiate leads to the gender pay gap, where men earn 8% more than women in new positions. Additionally, women ask for less when they negotiate. However, firms like Google encourage women to seek promotions. Moreover, negotiating on behalf of others can increase women’s confidence. Despite this, women worldwide still speak up less than men, even in leadership positions.

Women in Development Programs: A Counterproductive Solution

Companies need to focus on sponsorship and gender-specific initiatives for female career growth rather than placing them in development programs.

The book delves into the disparity between men and women in corporate development programs where women typically get placed in such programs while men get actual jobs. These programs are ineffective in promoting women’s career growth, and many people question if leadership programs work. Gender-specific initiatives like mentoring programs that match female faculty members with mentors in their field have shown to offer modest benefits and are more effective.

Furthermore, sponsorships prove to be a more effective solution than mentorships. Women’s mentors lack seniority, limiting their actions to mere guidance and coaching. In contrast, men’s sponsors seek opportunities for them, get people to notice them and negotiate for them. Women and minorities often face information deficits while navigating the hierarchy, which results in a lack of role models. Newly hired men have more role models, while female hires have fewer signals on effective behavior to follow. To counter this gap, companies can create gender-specific courses and encourage women to engage in active goal setting while forming mutually supportive relationships.

Analyzing data in HR decision-making can also bring about a positive change. Companies that collect data use analytics to predict markets, respond to customer wishes and minimize risk, but few firms use this information to improve how they deal with people directly. Organizations must base their decisions on evidence, improve decision-making, and address ‘systematic’ unconscious bias. Successful unfreezing in such cases will only happen when people question their current strategies and become curious about alternatives.

In conclusion, companies need to focus on sponsorship as a crucial element in gender diversity and incorporate gender-specific initiatives at the workplace to foster female career growth. Mentoring in itself is not enough as sponsorships are more beneficial for an employee’s growth.

Unconscious Biases in Hiring

The representativeness heuristic is one of the many unconscious biases people have when evaluating others. In hiring, executives tend to look at promotion candidates in isolation and often make biased decisions based on gender stereotypes. Comparing candidates equally based on their performance eliminates this bias. Structured interviews should be conducted with the same questions in the same order, and demographic information should be avoided when possible. By following these steps in the hiring process, unconscious biases can be diminished, and people can be evaluated fairly.

Gender and Risk: A Biochemical Basis

Studies show that women tend to be more risk-averse than men, which affects their choices and performance in various environments. John Coates in his book, The Hour Between Dog and Wolf, explains that gender-based risk aversion is linked to a biochemical basis, specifically the level of testosterone that men receive after successful trades. This chemical boost motivates men to take more risks, which may not always benefit a firm. Furthermore, test-taking and employment environments also affect gender-based risk differences, with women often being penalized for leaving questions blank and being discouraged by biased language in job descriptions. The redesign of these environments, such as removing penalties for guessing and avoiding biased language, can reduce gender-based risk aversion differences. In developing countries, deworming is also found to be the most effective way to improve school performance since children miss school when their health is poor. Instead of seeking homogeneity, creating a diverse workplace where people with different risk-aversion levels are comfortable benefits performance and equality.

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