The tech gender gap produces major disparities in economic opportunity, reproduces biases in new technology, and impoverishes the talent pool for innovation. At the same time, the tech sector offers the tools and capacity for data collection and analytics that in turn power innovative and evidence-based solutions—potentially with broad implications for other areas of gender inequality.

What Works: Designing Gender Equality for and by the Tech Sector

WAPPP’s behavioral design research has produced innovative ways of nudging both public and private organizations toward gender equality in hiring, promotion, and workplace norms. The next step in behavioral design is to further develop research in the technology sector, which struggles with a persistent gender gap. What Works: Designing Gender Equality for and by the Tech Sector supported 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 were:

  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 gathered data to better understand specific challenges for women of color, who often are doubly disadvantaged in the workplace.

The research portfolio was guided by Iris Bohnet, Roy E. Larsen Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), and faculty director of WAPPP. Her work combines 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 included 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 worked 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 was 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.

See original press release (Oct 2017):