The work of Professor Iris Bohnet and Dr Jeni Klugman is being officially launched today, as they begin their joint residency at VicHealth as Leading Thinkers on gender equality. Expect world-first research and applied insights that shift the dial!
By Dr Jeni Klugman
I am excited to join Professor Iris Bohnet at VicHealth for the Leading Thinkers 2016–19 residency. An important element of the program we’ve set out for the coming years is using behavioural insights to help change adverse social norms for the benefit of all Australians.
What helps men and women to see each other as equal? In my experience, it’s working together and collaborating – working as colleagues and counterparts at all different levels. The normalisation of diverse and inclusive teams is important to building confidence in each other’s capabilities.
The challenges to gender equality in the workplace are not new. Australia’s labour force remains highly segregated by occupation: for example, women make up 98 per cent of personal assistants and secretaries, and fewer than 4 per cent of electrical engineers. And this despite the good news that Australia has climbed the ranks to be second worldwide in the mean number of years young women spend in education1.
Entrenched social norms can override opportunity that often unconsciously held notions of what women can aspire to and expect are perpetuating inequalities such as the $27,000 average full-time pay gap between men and women2. More insidiously, the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence underscored that adherence to defined gender roles and gender inequalities drive high rates of violence in the home. Intimate partner violence contributes to the disease burden of Australian women aged 18 to 44 more than risk factors like tobacco use, high cholesterol or use of illicit drugs3.
As behavioural economists, our approach considers ways to tackle unconscious bias, social norms, role models and stereotypes. Our work as Leading Thinkers has been shaped to address these fundamental barriers to gender equality in the Victorian context, and to set in motion evidence-based trials testing ways to bring about much needed change.
We envisage that a wide range of stakeholders will be receptive to the kinds of results that we expect to emerge, including business. Indeed we know the business case is strong, given the estimated boost to the Australian economy would be $8 billion annually if female tertiary graduates transitioned from university into the workforce at the same rate as men4.
Today we are officially launching two areas of action for research: on recruitment bias, and sports media bias.
How can we advance women’s participation in a broader range of careers? We’ve designed a trial to measure what would happen if the descriptions of job vacancies were expressed in gender-neutral terms. A number of employers are already taking part in the trial, many through the Victorian Government’s Recruit Smarter pilot. The findings will provide crucial information on whether, and by how much, the wording of advertisements affects the gender balance of the applicant pipeline. In the global context, this may be the first time such data has been gathered from a group of organisations all running the trial within the same timeframe.
Second, sports media bias. Originally from Sydney, I’m bowled over by how large sport looms in the lives of Victorians. I see this as an opportunity, because of the robust evidence that accessible role models are essential to transforming what girls and boys, women and men, think is possible. Sporting achievement is relatable for Australians, but perhaps especially so in Victoria.
Previous studies, such as the Women for media report 2016 analysing 6000 articles in Australian newspapers, delivered interesting findings: for example, just 21 per cent of people quoted in news articles over the surveyed period were women.
Our innovation here is to use big data analysis. As the term implies, this makes the review of a relatively large sample of print media technically feasible with a level of detail that is comparable to in-depth case studies. The research is designed to uncover: the extent to which female athletes, teams and sports are underrepresented; how news coverage of sportswomen differs from reports on male athletes and teams; and which biases and gender stereotyping in sports news coverage apply to male athletes.
We are excited about the prospects that this research has to cast valuable light about how to move the needle on gender equality, and the program of work with VicHealth and its stakeholders. The launch report, available here, provides more details about the trials, and VicHealth will be posting results as these become publicly available.
Personally, it is great to be able to work in a state like Victoria that is so progressive on various policy fronts including gender equality, and together with an agency like VicHealth, which has such a well-deserved reputation for innovation and testing new ideas.
Dr Klugman is Managing Director at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and a fellow at the Kennedy School of Government’s Women in Public Policy Program at Harvard University. She advises VicHealth, together with Iris Bohnet, under an initiative that aims to make behavioural insights practical and accessible for Victorian government, industry and not-for-profit organisations.