How can behavioural science help #embraceequity?

Published by Andrea Day on

How can behavioural science help #embraceequity this International Women’s Day?

Table of contents


It’s International Women’s day on the 8th March and I love what the IWD team expose in this year’s campaign which is #EmbraceEquity

‘We can all challenge gender stereotypes, call out discrimination, draw attention to bias, and seek out inclusion. Collective activism is what drives change. From grassroots action to wide-scale momentum, we can all embrace equity. Forging gender equity isn’t limited to women solely fighting the good fight. Allies are incredibly important for the social, economic, cultural, and political advancement of women’.

So as a company that is focused on behaviours – it was important to me to ask why something so seemingly obvious as ‘let’s be equitable’, is in fact such a huge challenge, especially in the workplace. As I started doing some reading into the topic, it soon became clear how behaviours can get in the way…

What does the data say?

According to a report by Lean In and McKinsey in 2022, women leaders are just as ambitious as men, but at many companies they face headwinds that make it harder to advance. They’re more likely to experience belittling microaggressions, such as having their judgement questioned or being mistaken for someone more junior. The report went on to say that women leaders are doing more to support employee well-being and foster inclusion, but that this critical work is spreading them too thinly and mostly going unrewarded. Finally, the report stated that it’s increasingly important to women leaders that they work for companies that prioritize flexibility, employee well-being, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

According to the same report, only 1 in 4 C-suite leaders is a woman and only 1 in 20 is a woman of colour.

This took me back to a conversation with a senior investor in a leading tech investment company. At the time we’d invited her in to do a ‘lean in’ session and one of the things she shared was that the talent pool for senior execs is limited. Women often didn’t have the confidence to apply for C-suite positions and if they did, they regularly lost out to more outwardly confident men. This was a concern for her as many of the top performing companies were those with better gender balance. When I asked why women weren’t being recruited she responded that often top positions are recruited by a panel and that brings biases too, as in many cases the majority were men. This is reinforced by the statistics, which let’s be honest are still pretty stark…

Lean In. Women in the Workplace. 2022

The above statistics highlight the gaps that so clearly need addressing. That first step up to manager is heavily weighted towards men, and women struggle to catch up. Once you reach the C-suite this trend increases, so it’s not surprising that the female investor I mentioned had some big challenges in recruiting women execs. If you can’t see it, do you believe you can be it? This also perpetuates feelings of imposter syndrome for those who do get to this level.

So how can we change those behaviours?

So, what can be done about it? How do you change those behaviours that limit equity? What are the barriers? If you spoke to one of our behavioural scientists, they might talk about social identity bias as a barrier. Human beings form groups and often make decisions based on group interests. These groups can be as arbitrary as gender groups. People also may judge situations based on group interests rather than objective reality. Social identity bias can lead to bad decisions and losses, much like the decisions being made to hire male candidates over women candidates despite the business results suggesting that more balanced exec teams perform better.

Behavioural science shows that people are far more likely to model a behaviour when other people are doing it too — whether that behaviour is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. We tend to do what those around us are already doing because we see it as ‘the norm’ (Cialdini, 2007). Behaviours have to change for others to change with them. The way to change this is to put the focus on those displaying the ‘good’ behaviour so that it becomes salient.

Change is coming...

Thankfully some change is happening. We said earlier that women are more likely to experience belittling microaggressions, such as having their judgment questioned or being mistaken for someone more junior. At BAD we’re seeing more companies investing in behavioural interventions to tackle microaggressions, to reinforce their code of conduct and to foster an inclusive culture. We’re seeing the shift to promoting the use of microaffirmations and encouraging allyship. These companies recognise the importance of DEIB in their organisations and to society at large and are standing behind it.

They stand alongside many organisations who are providing tools to promote equity and to help change some of those entrenched behaviours. One such organisation, Lean In, has a valuable free resource that’s worth a look at, on 50 ways to fight bias…

And by all means get in touch if you want to talk to one of our own behavioural science consultants here at BAD – this is an area close to our hearts as a woman-owned company.

We’re thrilled to share that BestAtDigital is now a member of WeConnect International – a global network that connects women-owned businesses to qualified buyers around the world. An organisation with a vision for a world in which women have the same opportunities as men to design and implement business solutions which as one that we share and celebrate this International Women’s Day.

#EmbraceEquity #IWD2023

Related stories

Changing behaviour

Time to change… 

Why do we behave the way we do? It can be hard to change our less desirable behaviours when they are highly ingrained and have become habits we perform automatically without thinking.

digital user experience conceptual image
Best Practice

The inaccessibility of dark patterns

Even if you haven’t heard the phrase Dark Patterns, the chances are you’ve almost certainly come across them — both online and in the physical world.