Address Gender Inequality with Behavioral Science
Updated: May 24, 2021
Nowadays, gender inequality is one of the major problems in worldwide societies, being recognised by the United Nations as an objective for sustainable development.
Some issues can easily be linked to this social dilemma, as disparity in salary, since the gender pay gap in the EU stands at 14,4% and has been kept almost constant over the last decade. Women's leadership gap also reflects the unequal situation. In the United States, even though it is recorded that more than half of people with master's degrees are women, only 5% to 20% of leadership jobs, as school deans, or corporate executive offices, are occupied by females.
Looking towards statistics dominated by women we have rape and sexual assault, with women being most victims of these crimes. According to data from 2015, in the US, approximately 1 in every 5 women (25.5 million) reported completed or attempted rape, at least once in their lifetime, whereas only 2.8% of men suffered it. (For statistical matters, were considered as completed or attempted rape episodes as "completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug-facilitated completed penetration").
What is being done?
Nowadays, there is a rising of movements for gender inequality awareness and fighting for a more informed, respectful, and fair society is a possibility for everyone, regardless of if they are men or women. Quotas for leadership positions are a possible option to value women in the professional field, trying to balance the ratio between genders in those careers, showing the capability of females to play a decisive role on higher stands. Providing an equal salary between people of distinct genders with the same role in a company, or in the government, will also contribute to diminishing the gap and the feeling of injustice, promoting a fairer valuation of each employee's work and consequently better performance.
Daily, even outside our workspace environment, the fight for equality is also urgent, to respect women in relationships, to let them have their voice, to have zero tolerance for sexual abuse or harassment. Trying to deconstruct stereotypes and sexist points of view or comments, to interpret the root of those thoughts, to rationally explain why they should be avoided and trying to educate our friends and family to respect women are critical actions to beat discriminatory habits.
How can BE contribute?
Nudging to fight for gender inequality is a more and more present idea. Not only does that change behaviours, contributing to a more equal and safer place for women, but also doesn’t change any economic incentives.
On the one hand, inequality is a global problem. Due to that, a lot of NGOs and institutions have been trying to increase men’s awareness into the topic, asking them to not be indifferent and to act as well. UN Women created a HeforShe website where they share their accomplishments of one of their initiatives. This website contains a particular component where men from all around the world can sign up to commit to the principles of gender equality. However, the signing up process was not that easy. With the help of a Nudge Unit, they then resorted to nudging to increase this engagement among users. They restructured the website, clarifying the steps towards signing up and making it easier for users to see it. Commitment rates then increased from 2% to 25%.
On the other, nudging can be used to close gender gaps when it comes to economic opportunities. In some firms, the process of hiring is still very unequal. The decision of who to hire can still be related with stereotypes and unconscious bias, giving more importance to System 1, the automatic one, than to System 2, the reasoned one. According to a study conducted a few years ago, when candidates were interviewed separately, women were more likely to be preferred for verbal tasks, whereas men would be preferred for mathematical-related ones, regardless of their previous experiences. The results were clear – on average, the probability that a person from the stereotype-advantaged group would be chosen was around 66%. When interviewed together, the employers were now more focused on the individuals’ background and not on their gender. The once 66% likelihood would decrease to 32% on joint evaluations.
Although this method of evaluating may have some problems, it shows that joint evaluations are much more likely to be fair with all individuals, increasing attention not to the gender bias, or any other stereotype, but to the experience and capability of applicants.
To sum up, gender inequality is still a serious problem in the nowadays society worldwide. Although action is being taken by several firms, governments, and individuals, it seems not enough in several domains, as workplaces and personal relationships.
Thus, several nudging ideas can be designed and adopted to decrease stereotypes and bias, especially unconscious ones, promoting a more equal and fair community for everyone, regardless of their gender.
Joana Alfaiate - Research Analyst
Afonso Fortunato - Research Analyst
Bohnet, Iris, October 2010. Gender equality: a nudge in the right decision. [online]. Financial Times. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/59d7d2f6-d6a7-11df-98a9-00144feabdc0
Bohnet, I., van Geen, A. and Bazerman, M., March 2012. When Performance Trumps Gender Bias: Joint Versus Separate Evaluation. [online]. Harvard Kennedy School. Available at: https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/8506867/RWP12-009-Bohnet.pdf
Mantashian, J. and Charon, A., March 2019. Nudging a Global Movement for Gender Equality. [online]. Available at: https://bvanudgeunit.com/nudging-a-global-movement-for-gender-equality/
Warner, J. with Ellmann, N. and Boesch, D., November 2020. The Women’s Leadership Gap. [online]. Available at: