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How behavioural economics matters in dealing with gender discrimination

Talking about gender discrimination in 2019, an era where it looks like women are treated the same as men, may seem unneeded. But how many of us are actually completely gender neutral, especially when it comes to topics like career and family?

I’ve recently taken an “Implicit Association Test” (IAT) on this topic and it showed that, though I consider myself an activist for women’s right and gender equality, I do tend to slightly link male with career and females with family. This online tests, available on different topics at the link, let people discover that our subconscious isn’t completely immune to biases, no matter how strongly we believe so, and how widespread these latter actually are.

Gender discrimination, especially in the office, comes from men as well as from women themselves, although unconsciously. For example, women tend to refrain from asking higher salaries or negotiate with customers simply because  they feel satisfied with what they have, and they don’t consider like they deserve more: women settle for less while men are four times more likely to ask for higher pay than women with the same qualifications. (“Women don’t ask”; L. Babcock, S. Laschever).

In the movie “On the basis of sex” (2018), the main character, a female lawyer in 1970 fighting for gender equality in front of the law, claims that the few ladies accepted at Harvard Law School in those days didn’t even have a female bathroom but never complained about it simply because they felt incredibly blessed to be accepted in the first place, despite their gender. This is just one example to show how sometimes women don’t fight for their rights just because they feel like they don’t deserve to do so. Although the situation has enormously improved since those days, today still too many women feel “lucky” enough to even have the opportunity to work instead of staying at home and therefore, unlike men, feel like they’re not entitled to more benefits.

Another very common behaviour in this field is the so-called “moral licensing” that becomes the reason why often diversity trainings don’t work. According to this bias, people feel excused for their bad behaviours after doing something good: executives who implement diversity programs, for example, may feel like they have done enough, and therefore feel licensed to go back to their usual behaviour. It is the same mental mechanism that makes us feel like we “earned” eating a chocolate cake after eating a salad.

Solving the problem by trying to change people’s mind seems practically impossible as the majority of employers assures that they would hire the most talented employees, without biases; but we’ve seen that too often that is not the case, even if not consciously. Perhaps the best way to deal with the issue is to implement transparency and honesty, to assure the availability of clear information to be aware of our rights and to push women to find the confidence to know and demand what they’re entitled to.


Costanza De Grandi

By bbiasblog

The official blog of B.BIAS - Bocconi Behavioural Insights Associations of Students

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