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Tips on tackling Gender Inequality - based on behavioural science

24 February 2022


Significant efforts have been made in recent years to reduce gender inequality – but the issue is one that is far from solved. Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8th, our latest Reflecting Ireland report sought to understand the attitudes of men and women when it comes to perceptions of equality.

Our research which you can check out here found that both men and women agree that Ireland has made great progress in this area over the past decade. However, a significant divergence exists in relation to equality in the workplace.

To help people take positive action, we’ve partnered with Behavioural Scientist Clare Cogan of BehaviourWise to support our customers in understanding how we can all work towards gender equality at work and in our home lives.

What gets in the way of us having "an Ireland where all women enjoy equality with men and can achieve their full potential, while enjoying a safe and fulfilling life"? (1)

In the past legislation has been a constraining factor.  However from the 1970s onwards legislative barriers have gradually been dismantled. Changes in legislation have provided access to work, the right to equal pay, the banning of discrimination on the basis of gender and marriage, access to contraception and divorce, and the right to same-sex marriage. We have gender quotas for parliamentary election candidates, and plans are in place to improve our legislative framework further. The battleground for gender equality extends beyond the Oireachtas, however. We all have a role to play, our day-to-day behaviour makes a difference. We know from behavioural science that how we behave is strongly influenced by social norms and biases.

Social norms are the unwritten rules that govern our behaviour.  They determine what’s considered acceptable or unacceptable in society. Social norms are not cast in concrete, they adapt and evolve.  We can and have changed social norms for the better in Irish society, and we can do so again. 

Biases can be explicit or implicit. Explicit bias is intentional and is therefore easier to spot and to challenge. Implicit bias is unconscious, it influences our behaviour without us even knowing it. Whether explicit or implicit, we can correct for bias. We can ‘debias’.

Sexism, defined as “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex” can result from explicit or implicit bias, and can be tolerated within prevailing social norms. If we want to close the gender equality gap, both men and women need to become more aware their own biases and challenge prevailing social norms. 

The theme of International Women’s Day in 2022 is #BreakTheBias.

Here are some ways we can all #BreakTheBias, in our working and home lives.

#BreakTheBias AT WORK:

FOR EMPLOYERS:

  • Normalise flexible working for both men and women, so that both feel enabled to balance work, home and care responsibilities. Break the bias that flexible or part-time work is the domain of women.
  • Debias the recruitment and promotion process. There are lots of ways to do this, such as using unbiased language in job advertisements, anonymising CVs, and using structured, skill-based assessments and interview processes (2). One approach that has proven successful is asking job applicants to list duration of experience (number of years) rather than actual dates, to reduce discrimination against women that have taken time out for family reasons (3).
  • Mind the gender data gap. To meet the needs of both male and female employees it’s important to gather data by gender to identify where unmet needs exist (4). In one interesting example, male employees were asked their views on taking parental leave. They assumed their male colleagues would not look favourably on them for taking parental leave, which turned out to be false. Once they were told the majority of their male colleagues were supportive, men were more willing to sign up for parental leave (5).

FOR JOB-SEEKERS & EMPLOYEES:

  • Encourage the women and girls in your life to consider careers in STEM - science, technology, engineering and maths. We know careers in STEM are forecast to grow substantially in the coming years. Currently in Ireland men are over two and a half times more likely than women to qualify in STEM subjects (6). Break the bias that careers in STEM are better suited to men.
  • Seek out opportunities to upskill and reskill throughout your career, especially in areas like technology or learning and development, which are becoming increasingly vital across industries.
  • Our research tells us 67% of women feel that successful women in the public eye inspire them. Find female role models and mentors to inspire the women and girls in your life.

#BreakTheBias AT HOME:

We can all start with ourselves. We can ask ourselves whether there’s a more interesting (and equitable) way to do the things we do each day. Here are 4 examples:

  • Estimate roughly how much time each adult in your household spends on housework or caring duties in an average week. The results might surprise you! Aim to share the burden equally among adults. Break the bias that housework and caring are the responsibility of women.
  • If you’re a parent, share time spent on household chores equally between girls and boys. International research by UN Women conducted in 2020 found that parents were more likely to notice their daughters doing more to help out around the house than their sons (7). Break the bias that housework is for girls.
  • Check your regular news media sources, whether traditional or social, for gender balance. International research shows that women are under-represented both as journalists / reporters and quoted experts in news media, especially on topics like politics and the economy (8). If you find your news sources are male-dominated, seek out a female journalists perspective from time to time.   
  • If you receive any misogynist or offensive comments on your social media posts, remove them to make it clear to others that you disapprove.

REFERENCES:

  • https://www.gov.ie/en/organisation/f1304-gender-equality/
  • https://www.bi.team/blogs/unconscious-bias-and-diversity-training-the-evidence/
  • The Behavioural Insights Team, 2021. Facilitating return to the labour market with a novel CV format intervention Research report. June 2021
  • Perez, C.C., 2019. Invisible women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men. Random House.
  • The Behavioural Insights Team, 2021. Supporting men to take longer parental leave and work flexibly Research Report. June 2021
  • weforum.org/reports/global-gender-gap-report-2021
  • Women, U.N. and Count, W., 2020. Whose time to care? Unpaid care and domestic work during Covid-19.Gender and Covid25, pp.1-10.
  • Kassova, L. 2020. The Missing Perspectives of Women in News. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The content of this blog does not constitute advice and is for general information purposes only. Readers should always seek professional advice before relying on anything stated in the blog. Some of the links above bring you to external websites. Your use of an external website is subject to the terms of that site.


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