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opinion | hks policycast

Our environment and the gender equality gap

HKS Professor Iris Bohnet.Martha Stewart/Harvard Kennedy School

The Boston Globe presents the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast, a weekly podcast on public policy, politics, and global issues. HKS PolicyCast is hosted by Matt Cadwallader.

Academics have been studying gender inequality for decades trying to figure out how we can overcome the unconscious biases that prevent us from moving to a more egalitarian society. But what if instead of trying to change our own biased minds, we changed the environment in which we operate?

“Seeing is believing,” says Harvard Kennedy School professor Iris Bohnet. “If we don’t see male kindergarten teachers, then we don’t associate that job with men. And if we don’t see female professors, we don’t naturally associate that job with women.”


In a Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast podcast, Bohnet shares some of the anecdotes and academic studies from her new book, “What Works: Gender Equality by Design.”

“Trying to de-bias cognitive errors is really hard,” says Bohnet, “but it’s easy to change environments.”

In the full interview, which can be downloaded via iTunes, Bohnet describes how studies have shown that small changes like hanging up photos of successful women can yield substantial changes in the way young girls and their parents think about their future prospects.

She also explains the business case for gender equality, which isn’t as straightforward as one might think.