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New for employers: the latest evidence on What Works to reduce the Gender Pay Gap


August 1, 2018 Shoshana Davidson and Tiina Likki

Imagine a four-person shortlist that has three women and one man on it. With this shortlist, a woman will be hired only 67% of the time.

If you’ve got two women and two men on the shortlist, a woman will be hired 50% of the time – the odds you would expect if people were making hiring decisions purely based on merit.

What chance do you think a woman has of being hired when there’s one woman (against three men) on a four-candidate shortlist?

According to a recent study looking at academic hiring, there’s statistically no chance she’ll be hired.

Many employers are actively trying to recruit more women to senior positions, and are changing the composition of shortlists as a means of doing so. Some large corporates have recently announced that they’re scrapping all-male shortlists and are asking recruiters to find a more diverse range of candidates.

But as the study above suggests, adding just one woman to a shortlist to prevent it from being all-male may not do the trick. This is because the ratio is still sending the implicit message that a man is more appropriate for the job.

What Works guidance

Including multiple women on shortlists is one of the recommendations in the What Works evidence guidance, produced by BIT and published today by the Government Equalities Office. The guidance summarises actions employers can take to reduce their gender pay gap and improve gender equality within the workplace.

Sometimes the outcomes of actions can be counter-intuitive, as the earlier shortlist example shows. Another such example is diversity training. Employers invest a lot of money in learning and development, and many firms have rolled out mandatory diversity training. While well-intentioned, there is little evidence that diversity training will actually change behaviour. Research in the US in fact found that mandatory diversity training either has no effect on the number of women in management positions, or can actually reduce it.

This may be for a number of reasons. For instance, people might resent being made to attend training and fail to take it seriously, or the training might bring to mind unhelpful stereotypes which people then act upon. This is why we’ve classified diversity training as an action with mixed results in our What Works guidance.

Our guidance classifies actions into three categories -‘effective’, ‘promising’ or ‘mixed results’ – depending on whether approaches have been shown to work, or require more evidence before they can be recommended more widely.

Some examples from each category include:

  • Effective: Encourage salary negotiation by showing salary ranges; appoint diversity managers or diversity task forces
  • Promising: Improve workplace flexibility; offer mentoring and sponsorship
  • Mixed:Unconscious bias and diversity training; performance self-assessments

We hope that our What Works guidance will be a helpful resource for employers looking to improve their gender equality by implementing evidence-based actions. We will continue working with the Government Equalities Office to build the evidence on what works, and would encourage all employers to evaluate their own initiatives.

If you would like to participate in our future research, please get in touch.


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