Organizational Design

Nudging Gender Equality in Organizations

Sex discrimination in hiring, promotion, and job assignments is difficult to overcome. Gender biases are activated in all of us automatically. As soon as evaluators know the sex of a person, it can lead to unintentional and implicit discrimination—choosing or promoting a candidate not based on a rational assessment of their abilities but on stereotypes not useful in predicting future performance.

How We Can Overcome Gender Bias:
The most effective mechanisms to date to decrease the impact of gender bias are blind evaluation procedures (e.g., musicians auditioning behind a curtain). Diversity trainings and gender diversity on search and evaluation committees had mixed results. Quotas—for corporate boards or political bodies—are effective in increasing the fraction of women and enough exposure to women leaders can change gender stereotypes. However, quotas are often perceived as unfair and have had mixed effects on performance.

  • Goals and Targets: Goals can help organizations and individuals make progress on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) because they simultaneously address the will and the way of behavior change. Goals generate the will to change because they involve accountability; induce personal pride and public recognition; convey social norms; induce competitiveness; and work in tandem with other motivational mechanisms, such as financial incentives and feedback. Goals also help organizations and individuals tap into the necessary ways to change by focusing attention; prompting effort; inducing persistence; and mobilizing specific, relevant strategies to reach the target. For more on using goals to drive DEI in organizations, see this white paper (executive summary) by Iris Bohnet and Siri Chilazi.
  • Evaluation Nudges: Nudges redesign processes to make it easier for our biased minds to “get things right.” In “joint evaluation” where multiple candidates are presented simultaneously and evaluated comparatively, evaluators rely more on individual performance and less on stereotypes than in “separate evaluation” where candidates are presented sequentially and evaluated individually. This happens because people tend to use benchmarks when making judgments, and without explicit benchmarks to compare candidates with, they fill in the blank with stereotypes.
  • Norm Nudges: Generally, people are more likely to do what others have done. However, using a norm nudge where evaluators are informed of who other evaluators have chosen leads to the new evaluators “correcting” for others’ counter-stereotypical choices. This behavior seems to be particularly prevalent among male evaluators, with men choosing more men when others have chosen more women for stereotypically male tasks. Female evaluators are hardly affected by the norm nudge.