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Automatic ‘opt-ins’ can increase women’s leadership


October 18, 2021 – The ‘nudge’ theory of economics affects everything organ donation up to 401 (k) plans, when automatic participation is the default option and we must actively choose to opt out. And then there is the reverse: to log in to “accept cookies” on every website we visit.

‘Introduce’ is the workplace version of active engagement and is suggested as a way to reduce the gender gap in leadership positions. But new research suggests that auto-selection for women may be more effective.

During this study, behavioral economists conducted experiments with 1,598 women and men to see if a general recruitment process – in which stakeholders are asked to apply, or actively ‘sign up’ – would lead to differences in how the sexes respond. Their results, published in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that this typical way of doing things favors men.

In these experiments, people were randomly assigned to one of the two actual scenarios of a work competition. One scenario reflects the general practice of asking applicants to step forward, or to actively enroll.

With the ‘active enrollment’ scenario, women were significantly less likely than men to compete for the job. But under the “standard opt-in, active opt-out” scenario, women were just as likely as men to stay in the competition.

Experiments conducted by the researchers under laboratory conditions show a similar pattern. They found no disadvantages of the ‘standard opt-in’ approach to participants’ performance or well-being.

The results suggest that current recruitment and promotion practices favor men, who are more accustomed to such competitions. “By making competition the standard, the most common gender differences in the tendency to compete are eliminated,” the authors say.

By choosing everyone who qualifies for promotion or competitions, the leadership gap can be reduced, the researchers write, noting that changing the bias in the system can increase inclusivity better than asking people to ‘lean in’.



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