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BX2018: Diverse approaches to improving gender diversity

21st May 2018

This is the first in a series of blog posts in the lead up to the Behavioural Exchange 2018 conference in Sydney. It continues the ongoing conversation that we, as a global organisation, have been having about diversity, and the role Behavioural Insights can play in improving gender equality.

To talk about our recent work are three of our leading thinkers in the space, Nicky Quinn, Tiina Likki, and Kate Glazebrook.

Nicky Quinn, Behavioural Insights Team

Here in Sydney, we’ve been focusing on using behavioural insights to tackle the problem of sexist behaviours and sexual harassment. In partnership with the Victorian health promotion agency, VicHealth, and the Victorian Government, we’ve looked at the role of the ‘bystander’: someone who witnesses sexist behaviours and sexual harassment, but doesn’t necessarily intervene. 

These individuals hold a lot of power: intervening can protect the victim, discourage the perpetrator, and communicate to the others present that this behaviour is unacceptable. However, bystanders also hold similar power when they don’t act, as they also send a powerful message: that sexism and sexual harassment is okay.”

After workshopping solutions with VicHealth and the Victorian Government, and feeding into their public service campaign, we’re now about to trial our ideas in the university sector. Admittedly, evaluating behaviours in the sexism and sexual harassment space is tricky (whilst not quite at the point of making a sexist comment and filming everyone’s response, measuring bystander behaviour requires getting innovative), but it’s critical to get right if we want to learn what works. 

In addition, we’ve also been supporting the NSW DPC Behavioural Insights Unit with their great work increasing women in senior leadership. You can read about how behavioural insights can be used to increase workplace diversity in their recent report.

Tiina Likki, Behavioural Insights Team

Here in the UK, public awareness around workplace gender inequality has skyrocketed in the past few months. This is due to a number of factors, but the main reason is new legislation that requires employers with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap figures.

As part of this push to improve gender equality in the labour market, we’ve recently kicked off a 2-year programme of work with the Government Equalities Office, and an exciting collaboration with Harvard University, to look at what employers can do to improve outcomes for women, as well as how to support the rebalancing of childcare between men and women.

Ultimately, it’s employers that stand to benefit from our work. It focuses on ensuring that people are promoted based on who’s best for the job, changing the status quo where women often miss out on promotions due to unconscious bias, lack of flexible working policies, and other factors. We’ve previously shared our early thoughts on what governments and employers can do.

Beyond organisations, change is also needed in the gendered norms and expectations around who takes care of children. The UK recently introduced a policy that allows parents to split parental leave, rather than it all going to the mother. But take up has been low – due to a multitude of tendencies and beliefs, such as men feeling their employers and colleagues aren’t supportive, or that the mother would rather stay at home.

As part of our work program, we’re exploring ways to get more men to look after children, by encouraging them to take parental leave or adopt flexible working practices. The reason is, if more men take an active role in caring, more women will be able to pursue their careers freely, for example, by taking on the senior roles they often see as incompatible with having children. Changing behaviours around gender stereotypes and norms isn’t easy, but the potential benefits are huge.”

Kate Glazebrook, Applied 

One of the most exciting developments emerging from the recent increased focus on gender and diversity is it has focused attention not just on a large social and economic issue, but also on the practical steps organisations can take to address it, such as revamping their hiring processes.

We built Applied – a behaviourally-informed hiring platform – because we were convinced by the evidence that we won’t eliminate bias by trying to retrain the brain. As BIT and others have found, diversity or unconscious bias training programmes unfortunately do little to move the needle.

They assume we can make our brains not fall prey to unconscious biases when most of the evidence suggests otherwise. It’s hard to diet if your house is filled with chocolate, and similarly, it’s hard to ignore a candidate’s name and gender when they’re the most salient thing on a CV.

Happily, tech can help. Over 40,000 candidates have now been assessed through Applied’s unbiased recruitment process; and thousands have been hired into teams all over the world, from government departments around the world; to start ups; to the likes of Hilton Hotels, Penguin Random House, and Transport for London.

For our part, we’re also excited to also be working with some amazing academics to push the envelope and make hiring even smarter, fairer, and easier. We’re exploring how best to frame negative feedback to ensure it’s constructive, not demoralising. We’re looking at natural language processing to make better suggestions on the best ways to test skills. And we’re studying ways to help teams draw a more empirical link between how they hire and how they measure performance.

Want to learn more about how Applied works? Sign up for a demo!

The authors of this blog post are Nicky Quinn, Advisor at BIT Australia; Tiina Likki, Head of the Gender and Behavioural Insights program at BIT UK; and Kate Glazebrook, CEO and Co-founder of Applied.

Behavioural Exchange 2018 is only 34 days away – we’ll be there! Join our session on Taking Nudges to Scale. Or, catch Kate in the breakout session on Diversity. Hope to see you in Sydney!