fbpx WAPPP Q&A: Evidence-based gender policy solutions made easy | Harvard Kennedy School

Q: The portal shares insights into gender-related issues that are based on science and evidence, why do you believe this approach is particularly important?

Iris Bohnet: Evidence is the bread and butter of any academic institution. That’s why focusing on the empirical evidence about what works to advance gender equity was a natural focus for WAPPP. We want to enable decision makers across sectors—policymakers, human resources managers, health professionals, educators—to make choices based on the best evidence available and not rely on so-called “best practices” where they just copy each other without ever evaluating the impact of what they are doing. I often compare our approach to medicine: First we diagnose what is broken, then we use evidence to determine what intervention to use to fix the problem, and finally we evaluate the effectiveness of our intervention.

Iris Bohnet and Anisha Asundi
Above: Iris Bohnet is the Kennedy School's academic dean, co-director of the Women and Public Policy Program, and the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government.

Below: Anisha Asundi is a research fellow at the Women and Public Policy Program and the manager of the Gender Action Portal.

Q: Can you give a few examples of important research and insights that have been shared on the portal that have made an impact since it was launched in 2014?

Anisha Asundi: The Gender Action Portal (GAP) was launched with the intention of being a resource for policymakers looking for evidence-based research to advance gender equity. Over time, our audience has expanded to also include journalists covering gender-related stories, including the upcoming 2020 US elections. For example, Yale University Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior Victoria Brescoll—who was a WAPPP research fellow from 2013-2015—and University of Queensland Professor Tyler Okimoto found that when female politicians are perceived to be power-seeking, voters tended to react negatively with feelings of moral outrage. The GAP summary of their work has been referenced in many popular news articles, including pieces in The Guardian and HuffPost. Another frequently-cited work is WAPPP Co-Director Hannah Riley Bowles' research on social incentives for gender, which found that women who initiate negotiations in the workplace are more likely to be penalized than their male counterparts. The Gender Action Portal has also been referenced in articles about women in sports leadership and the future of work.

Q: We’re entering a watershed period in terms of politics and policies around gender, what is your hope for what the Gender Action Portal can become during this pivotal time?

Iris Bohnet: We hope it will become a valuable resource for policymakers and decision makers that updates them on new research insights gained. The FDA requires that new drugs be tested in clinical trials before they are made available to the public. We aim for a similar standard for new policies, organizational practices, and technologies before they are unleashed. Experimentation and evaluation help us understand what works and what does not, for example to debias the workplace and create equal opportunities for all. Systemic “isms” such as sexism and racism can only be overcome by systemic change, and the research summaries on GAP inform policymakers on what such change could look like.

Q: What’s new and improved in the redesigned version?

Anisha Asundi: We’ve created a new, modern, and engaging design for the GAP website that will help harness its growth and further our mission. The website’s new features greatly improve user experience, incorporating new branding and new icons that reflect our 20 topics related to economic opportunity, politics, health, and education. The portal is also now much easier to navigate and is mobile-compatible, because we've seen that approximately 35 percent of our users are accessing it from a mobile device. We’ve made it easier for users  to share articles and research on social media and the search function has also been greatly improved, allowing policymakers, academics, students, journalists and practitioners to more easily find the experimental research and interventions that fit their needs. We’re pleased with how the portal has helped translate research into action for the past five years, and we hope the redesign expands our audience even further.

Banner image by Thomas Barwick

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