Today we celebrate International Women’s Day with the publication of Iris Bohnet’s What Works: Gender Equality by Design. Bohnet, Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, Director of the Women and Public Policy Program, and co-chair of the Behavioral Insights Group, told us early on that she had three goals for the book.
First, she wanted to convince readers that we all have implicit biases that the best of intentions can’t override and that a world of workshops can’t undo. These biases are a major problem, keeping us from valuing people for who they are.
Second, she hoped to communicate that this problem is costly—not just for the affected individuals, but for society at large. This is especially so in the stubborn case of gender, where biases can lead us to overlook fully half of the talent pool, at potentially great cost to our families, organizations, and economies.
Thirdly, she wanted the book to show that we can do better. We can design environments that help biased people get it right. We can move the needle towards more equality and better performance, and we can start right now.
Bohnet’s invitation to readers is to become behavioral designers, employing the research evidence presented throughout the book to change the environments in which we live, learn, and work. Small changes can have surprising effects, and opportunities are everywhere. We constantly make choices about how to present and evaluate information, how to structure interviews and create teams, whom to hire and promote. There is no design-free world. Why not design a bit more thoughtfully?