CAMBRIDGE — Harvard Kennedy School’s (HKS’s) Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP) is launching a new research program that will focus on gender and technology. The program is funded by Melinda Gates, through a $2 million grant made by her executive office, Pivotal Ventures.

The research portfolio, named “What Works: Designing Gender Equality for and by the Tech Sector,” will fund projects that use insights from behavioral science and technology to gain a greater understanding of how to remove gender bias in the tech sector and beyond. The aims of the research are 1) to develop interventions that address challenges women face over the length of their careers, from recruitment to promotion to leadership, and 2) to harness technological tools to bring these interventions to scale across sectors. Using an intersectional approach that considers race and ethnicity as well as gender, projects will also gather data to better understand specific challenges for women of color, who often are doubly disadvantaged in the workplace.

The research portfolio will be guided by Iris Bohnet, professor of public policy at HKS and faculty director of WAPPP. Her work has combined lessons from economics and psychology to de-bias workplaces, including removing biased language from job postings and using structured hiring processes.

“Gender bias often is unconscious and mindsets are hard to change,” says Bohnet. “In the tech sector, there has been increasing interest in addressing this bias at the organizational level. WAPPP is thrilled to receive this grant to expand our research on how technology and behavioral science can level the playing field for all by de-biasing how we live, learn, and work.”

In its first year, the research agenda will include studies led by Bohnet, HKS Associate Professor Daniel Shoag, Harvard Business School (HBS) Professor Francesca Gino, and HBS Associate Professor Michael Luca. Their research teams will work with tech organizations and tool developers to promote inclusive workplace environments and reduce bias in areas ranging from job ads to venture capital funding.

“The Kennedy School is committed to conducting innovative research to improve outcomes for women in fields where they are underrepresented,” says Douglas Elmendorf, dean and Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy at HKS. “The Women and Public Policy Program has been a leader in evidence-based insights for advancing gender equality, and HKS is extremely grateful for Melinda Gates’ generous support for this work.”

To extend the impact of new insights and solutions, the research will be supported by a communications program aimed at reaching industry leaders, managers, and policymakers through talks at major tech conferences, a 2018 workshop hosted at Harvard, and content for WAPPP’s Gender Action Portal.


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