WHAT WORKS by Iris Bohnet


Gender Equality by Design
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How to recognize and overcome bias.

Professor and director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Bohnet, a behavioral economist, draws on extensive research to argue that gender equality can be accomplished in schools, businesses, and politics. Her goal, she writes, is to present a range of designs “that make it easier for our biased minds to get things right.” The book, which reads like a series of TED talks, is strongest in revealing unconscious forces that shape decision-making: the halo effect, for example, “when an initial positive impression of a person impacts how favorably the person is perceived”; the influence of gendered language in job ads, newsletters, and Web pages; and the power of believing that gender equality is a prevalent norm. “People are generally more likely to adopt a behavior if they know that most others are already doing it,” she writes. Bohnet has found that diversity training in businesses “has no relationship with the diversity of the workforce” but instead may promote moral licensing, “where people respond to having done something good by doing more of something bad.” More effective approaches teach people to “consider-the-opposite” (imagining oneself in another’s shoes) and imagine a “crowd-within” (asking themselves how a crowd would assess evidence). Bohnet’s designs for change underscore the need for transparency in interviewing, hiring, promotion, school policies, and government. She advises publicizing role models through such strategies as displaying portraits of women and minorities in public settings and by increasing “the fraction of counterstereotypical people in positions of leadership, through quotas or other means.” She sums up her advice in the acronym DESIGN: Data, Experiment, Signpost. “Do not focus on changing minds,” she cautions, but instead collect data, experiment with solutions, and create signposts that “nudge behavior toward more equality.”

An optimistic solution to a complex problem.

Pub Date: March 8th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-674-08903-7
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2016


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