Timed with Equal Pay Day, New Research Offers a Roadmap for Shifting Workplace Norms
TIME’S UP Foundation and nonprofit behavioral design firm ideas42 released research that introduces a new approach to building equitable workplaces. Using behavioral design strategies, the report both calls for and offers a roadmap for a cultural shift in the U.S. workplace. The report, From Ideal Worker to Ideal Workplace: Using Behavioral Design to Create More Equitable Companies, is designed to help employers reimagine their role in creating fairer and more dignified workplaces for all.
“For decades, the only tools companies had to address bias and discrimination were unconscious bias or diversity training. But after decades of use, we now see that these tools were far from sufficient,” said Tina Tchen, president and CEO of TIME’S UP Foundation. “It’s time to use cutting edge behavioral design research to develop new approaches to uproot the systems and structures that have put women, especially BIPOC women, at an unfair disadvantage for far too long.”
As a first illustration of this new approach, TIME’S UP and ideas42 tackled the persistent existence of the gender wage gap in the United States, over a half century since the passage of the Equal Pay Act. This new research shows that the gender wage gap persists due in part to outdated “ideal worker norms,” which form the cultural idea that work demands workers’ complete attention, allegiance, and sacrifice.
These norms developed from the experiences of men who have historically been able to devote their lives to work because women take on the lion’s share of unpaid care work at home. Although a vestige of a former time, these norms remain entrenched in the very fabric of seemingly innocuous workplace practices and cultures — such as compensation negotiation, promotions, or assumptions and stereotypes about women caregivers and their dedication to paid work.
“Decades of research underscore that the environment in which people make decisions influences their behavior in meaningful ways,” said Katy Davis, managing director at ideas42 and co-author of the new report. “To truly tackle the gender pay gap, we need to put the onus on employers to change the environment of work—systems, policies, and practices within the workplace that perpetuate bias. Behavioral design offers promising strategies that employers can leverage to disrupt contextual features of the environment that reinforce outdated social norms and directly impact who gets hired and promoted.”
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The report identifies the problems with outdated norms preventing progress, and provides a path forward by outlining a new set of “ideal workplace” standards, informed by behavioral science, to replace the outdated “ideal worker” standards, and actionable steps employers can take to make their workplaces less harmful and more equitable, including:
- Designing hiring and recruitment processes that center the experience of caregivers as the default;
- Implementing gender-neutral paid family and medical leave policies to help women stay in the paid workforce;
- Creating clear scheduling and work hour expectations and cultivating a work environment that embraces culture change; and
- Offering a pathway to fair promotions by expanding leadership characteristics beyond stereotypically masculine traits.
This collaboration combined TIME’S UP’s expertise on workplace inequality and ideas42’s rigorous behavioral science approach to addressing persistent social problems — producing new, science-based solutions employers can leverage right away to improve their workplaces.