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How to offer equal opportunities at work

Apr 23 2017 07:23
Gayle Edmunds

There are 200 million missing women and girls in the world by current calculations – that’s doubled since The Economist ran its cover story on this global catastrophe in 2010.

Iris Bohnet, professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School in the US, said this was why we had to care about opportunities being made available to everyone, regardless of gender – in this example – but also race, culture and any other demographic that triggers our bias.

A 10-year study in India by Professor Robert Jensen proved that if communities think there are economic opportunities in the future (in this case, working in call centres, which prefer to hire women) for the female children they care for, they care more for those girl children.

Bohnet is the author of What Works: Gender Equality by Design, a book that looks far beyond the likes of diversity and leadership training for organisations, but rather shows the simple things that can be done to make our organisations, schools and, ultimately, society unbiased towards women.

In a Gordon Institute of Business Science talk, Bohnet pointed out that we all suffer from categorical thinking, no matter how trained we are – it is how we see the world, and any number of unconscious things trigger our biases.

With easy interventions, an organisation can change behaviour rather than try to change a mind-set, which takes much longer.

In the 1970s, a selection of symphony orchestras in the US employed only 5% female musicians.

Currently, 40% of their musicians are women.

This was achieved with a simple intervention. For the past 10 years, musicians have auditioned behind a curtain so that the selectors have no idea what gender the musician is.

This seems simple, but the numbers prove it is highly effective.

“You want to have an organisation where people don’t feel entitled to drop a racist joke, or a sexist one,” said Bohnet.

Bohnet gave another example of a company wanting to remove the biases from its operation.

The employees made a list of all the small inequalities they experienced – things such as being interrupted during a meeting, credit being given to a man over a woman for a good idea and not being given equal time to speak.

After making the list, the company’s big intervention was not that big.

Every person was given a red flag and when they felt there was inequity, they’d raise their flag. This is simple and non-punitive, but effective.

Bohnet acknowledged the powerful role of intersectionality in trying to face the challenges of biases.

People have to deal with gender and race, as well the fact that they may come from a rural area, so one size doesn’t neatly fit all.

However, starting the process is imperative as equal opportunities for all is a basic human right. It is also the path to the Holy Grail of societal prosperity – economic inclusion.

Three things to do today to give everyone an equal shot at that job:

1. Before you read the CVs, get someone to remove all the demographic information once they are short-listed – gender, religion and even hobbies.

2. Give every short-listed candidate the same task to perform and evaluate them blind on their performance.

3. In the interview, ask each short-listed candidate the same five questions.

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