How to of­fer equal op­por­tu­ni­ties at work

CityPress - - Business - GAYLE EDMUNDS ged­munds@city­press.co.za

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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