fbpx Behavioral Science for Inclusive Organizations | Harvard Kennedy School
Iris Bohnet Photo

Iris Bohnet

Co-Director, Women and Public Policy Program
Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government

This course builds on insights from behavioral science to offer an evidence-based approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in organizations. While there is increasing awareness of the lack of DEI in business, government and non-profit organizations, progress has been slow. We argue that one of the reasons for this is that organizations have used the wrong approaches, often copying peers’ “best practices” that are not based on “best evidence” and attempting to find “quick wins” for specific groups and departments in an uncoordinated fashion with little regard for the long-term DEI health of the organization. To promote healthy behaviors, organizations have typically relied on “soft” instruments such as awareness-raising and appeals through training programs, or “hard” instruments such as command-and-control through rules, carrots and sticks. This course argues that behavioral design (“nudges”) offers a middle ground to establish healthy behaviors and is often more powerful than awareness-raising and less costly than shoves.

In working with and learning from practitioners across sectors—entrepreneurs who have built evidence-based DEI tools; Human Resources (HR) and DEI leaders; as well as policymakers and -shapers—we will explore nudges that promote desired behaviors around effective talent management, organizational policies and practices that level the playing field for all, and inclusive culture. The course emphasizes evidence-based reasoning to diagnose the “DEI health” of an organization, design potential treatments for what is broken, and rigorously evaluate their impact, as well as motivate adoption of the best evidence in organizations. Students will work in small groups on specific DEI challenges and will have the opportunity to present their ideas to DEI leaders.

There are no requirements for this course. Familiarity with behavioral science (e.g., having read the book Nudge and/or having taken MLD-304, Science of Behavior Change) and/or comfort with using data are advantages. The instructor’s particular expertise is behavioral science and gender, and the course will heavily draw on the book What Works: Gender Equality by Design. Additional readings will inform the discussion of race, ethnicity, national origin, intersectionality and other DEI topics.