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Book Review: What Works: Gender Equality By Design by Iris Bohnet

The topic of Gender Inequality has been addressed by several books in recent years, often coming from different theoretical and ideological backgrounds. Broadly we can find two extremes: a) the corporate self-help strategies of leaning in and b) the revolutionary defiance of leaning out.

The work of Iris Bohnet finds a place for itself based on a vast and comprehensive review of research across the social sciences. Focusing on inequalities primarily within workplaces and schools, she does not try to position herself into one or the other ideological fields. Instead, she emphasises the complementarity of a behaviourally-based and empirically-driven approach with broader feminist strategies.

The author focuses on de-biasing environments rather than individuals as a solution to tackle gender inequality. By identifying behaviours and processes that take root in institutions and explicating how they impede gender equality, it may be possible to intervene and design around the point at which bias is most likely to take hold. This approach, often identified as ‘Nudging’, allows for faster achievements, moving the needle through quick wins in faster ways.

Most of the book looks at national and industrial level statistics and examines why processes aren’t working, before delving deeper to assess plausible behavioural reasons for these and moving towards workable and readily implementable solutions. A lot of cops is given to recruitment, a process riddled with bias, implicit discrimination and well-intended but misguided processes.

Starting from messages sent to individuals before the application process starts, to how non anonymized data impacts the choices done by recruiters and hiring managers, up to the interview process that, often unstructured, mostly manages to confirm rather then challenge existing beliefs about candidates. All is put under question, but the author provides a detailed answer, in the form of a checklist for organizations and their recruiting process. And incidentally gives suggestions that are valid not only for gender diversity, but for overall inclusion in general.

When we build teams, we look for complements, not substitutes. The diversity of viewpoints may trump average excellence when we have to solve problems collectively.

Iris Bohnet

By providing workable suggestions, this book becomes a solid tool for many practitioners, especially in the HR field. Not focusing only on the political pursuit of full equality, but rather giving concrete suggestions for actions to be undertaken. Plus the focus on bias, analyses not just at individual but also organizational and process level, allows for enabling true awareness in many readers.

If I could send you off with one big take-away, it would be this: We can reduce gender inequality.

Iris Bohnet

Really a great book for most HR professionals.

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This entry was posted in: Book Reviews


I am an experienced and innovative HR professional dedicated in improving the way organizations achieve results through their people. Over the years I have worked on many projects in different HR domains, gaining a deep understanding of all key HR processes, from Talent Management to Recruiting, from Organizational Design to Leadership Development, from HR Transformation to HR & Payroll Systems implementation at International level. Working with Fashion Brands, leading retailer as well as, through consulting, international brands in industries like Banking, Manufacturing, Professional Services at both Headquarter and local level. Last but not least I consider myself an eclectic and creative personality, with many interests ranging from technology to arts and poetry.

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