In 1990, the world was missing 200,000,000 girls. Now, it’s almost double. The Economist coined the term Gendercide to describe this tragedy. The sheer volume of missing girls has caught the attention of many including Dr. Iris Bohnet, a leading behavioural economist at the Harvard Kennedy School.
So how does Dr. Bohnet say we fix this?
The answer is simultaneously simple and complex: creating more economic opportunities for women. According to Bohnet, the health and survival of girls are dependent on breaking down society’s bias. We have an opportunity to change the world by changing our minds.
Instances of gender preference are not confined to the millions of missing girls. Bohnet reminds us to think back to the Heidi and Howard case study where real life Silicon Valley venture capitalist Heidi Roizen’s name was swapped with Howard – only to find that more students liked fictional Howard better than real life Heidi.
Fast-forward 16 years and even the world of popular culture has it’s “missing women,” where Hasbro forgot to create a pawn for Rey, the central female character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, for its Star Wars edition Monopoly game.
This lack of respect has more dire consequences. In regions where political participation of women is required, like India, where one-third of small villages must have female leaders, we’ve seen higher levels reported domestic violence. This points to how complicated this issue is, it’s not so simple as mandating more women in positions of power. Bias is insidious.
While it is inherently difficult to control bias, we can challenge this behaviour, and build systems that make it hard to rely on bias. Bohnet cites numerous examples of successful efforts to eliminate gender bias – whether it be orchestras conducting blind auditions, which increases the chance of women progressing to the next round by 15%. Or the recent changes to the SAT, where penalties for incorrect answers were eliminated due to the belief that women by nature were less likely to take risks and therefore more likely to leave a question blank rather than guessing – earning for them a lower test score.
If anything’s certain, it’s that the improvement for the future of women will take a whole village.
Get your copy of Dr. Iris Bohnet’s recent book, What Works: Gender Equality by Design, here.
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