Gender & Behavioural Insights UBS hosts launch of Government's Gender and Behavioural Insights programme

Hilary Spencer, Director of the Government Equality Office, says that year one of the gender pay report has been a successful step towards starting the conversation. And she and her department are not shying away from the work that needs to be done in year two and beyond. "Internationally we're [the UK is] seen collectively as really leading the way on this, which is amazing," Hilary said to a UBS auditorium full of men and women who were there to find out more about how we are working to bridge the gap in our industry. "Canada, Ireland and Poland are thinking about introducing gender pay gap reporting using our model. We've been talking to other organisations about whether they might use our metrics so that instead of everyone calculating their gender pay gap in slightly different ways, we'll get to a common standard. Because then instead of talking about what the data tells us, we can start talking about what we're actually going to do to change the gender pay gap."

Hilary's introduction was peppered with amusing anecdotes from using nudging techniques to encourage children to eat more healthily – techniques we should be implementing to close the gap – to a personal wish to close the gender pay gap before the predicted 2047, by which time she will be long retired. But the question the attendees took time out of their day to have answered is: "What works when it comes to closing the gender pay gap?"

Dr Tiina Likki from the Behavioural Insights Team stepped behind the podium in an attempt to answer this question. She cleverly opened her presentation with concepts we are familiar with, such as the qualities associated with higher level vocations and qualities associated with men have a lot of cross-over, and the same being true of lower level vocations and female qualities. This familiarity gave the audience the confidence to open their minds to some facts that Tiina presented to us:

  1. When it comes to job offers to graduates, 93 percent of women accept the first salary offer, while only 43 percent of men do – the remaining 57 percent negotiating for more.
  2. According to a paper published in Harvard Business Review, if you have four candidates for a position, three women and one man, there's a 67 percent chance a woman will be hired. Take that to two men and two women, there's a 50 percent chance a woman will be hired. Three men and one woman? That statistic drops to 0 percent chance of a woman being hired. As Tiina points out, in a corporate culture that believes we should have at least one woman in the selection, this is problematic.
  3. When a salary is non-negotiable, 10.6 percent of men will try and negotiate as opposed to 8.2 percent of women. However, when the word "negotiable" is added, the gap is reversed and 22 percent of men negotiate while 23.9 percent of women do.

What really works?

  • Having a diverse selection of candidates (more than one woman)
  • Standardised assessment process, asking all the candidate the same questions, in the same order
  • If a recruiter is interviewing a candidate as part of a panel, they should score the candidate independently before discussing with the rest of the panel to avoid being influenced by the others
  • Reduce ambiguity over salary and benefits. Roles where the salary is advertised in the ad are more likely to be filled by a woman
  • Set up diversity mangers and task forces as they create a form of social accountability – people are more likely to do the right thing if there's a chance they will be held accountable for it later
  • Encouraging the take up of Shared Parental Leave to reduce the gap caused or widened by women taking time off to have a family

What doesn't work very well?

  • Unconscious bias and diversity training are good for raising awareness, but the raw data shows that they are not effective in changing behaviours
  • Leadership and development training for women has not been sufficiently evaluated so the return on investment is unknown
  • Evidence suggests that women are more conservative than men when assessing their own performance. This may result in women being given less favourable performance assessments than they deserve, which can in turn slow down women's career progression
  • Having diverse selection panels when recruiting more women into the workforce has proven to have mixed results – sometimes being helpful and sometimes being harmful