Rethinking Gender Inequality

Breaking Down Bias in the Workplace

In the pursuit of gender equality in the workplace, a groundbreaking study challenges common assumptions about the differences in behavior between men and women. Researchers Stephen Turban, Laura Freeman, and Ben Waber delve into a large multinational firm's dynamics, revealing a startling truth: gender inequality is more about bias than behavior. This article distills the study's key findings, shedding light on the need for data-driven solutions to bridge the gender gap.

Conventional wisdom often attributes gender disparities in leadership and compensation to differences in behavior. However, this study disrupts this notion by meticulously analyzing digital communication data and sensor technology. Contrary to expectations, the research exposes minimal differences in behavior between men and women across various aspects of work.

While behavior differences were debunked, the study unearthed a critical factor perpetuating inequality: bias. The promotion gap between genders wasn't due to distinct behavior, but rather unequal treatment of identical actions. This groundbreaking insight challenges the narrative that women's actions inherently hinder their progress.

The study challenges the notion that women are excluded from crucial informal networks, debunking the myth of the "boys club." The research shows that women engage with management just as much and hold central roles in the workplace's social fabric. This finding underscores that engagement, not gender, defines career trajectories.

The study acknowledges societal pressures on women, particularly when juggling work, family, and household responsibilities. While higher workloads with seniority affect both genders, women often face more significant expectations, leading to tough decisions between family and career.

The study's implications are clear: tackling gender inequality requires a data-driven approach. Companies must prioritize bias-reduction programs and equitable policies, including diverse hiring practices. By addressing biases and providing support for working parents, businesses can pave the way for authentic gender equality.

In the face of persistent gender disparities, this study redefines the conversation. By exposing the role of bias over behavior, it challenges the status quo and encourages organizations to take actionable steps towards achieving genuine gender equality. Embracing data-driven strategies, companies can dismantle barriers, empowering women to rise and thrive in the workplace.

More details in Harvard Business Review's article " A Study Used Sensors to Show That Men and Women Are Treated Differently at Work" by Stephen Turban, Laura Freeman and Ben Waber. October 23, 2017.