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24-02-2020

Mind Your Language #WOMEN4STEM: Diversity & Inclusion Series, Part 4

In our Diversity and Inclusion Series, we embark on a journey to answer the most commonly asked questions related to the topic – everything from how behavioral science consulting works in the context of diversity, to some of our favorite nudges in action .

In a session at the Women’s Forum in Paris, Google and the BVA Nudge Unit spoke about Behavioral Science.

As behavioral scientists and practitioners know very well, words matter a lot. They are not only the tools we use to describe the world and to communicate with people, by themselves they also communicate an emotion – or prime a state of mind – which can impact people’s decisions and behaviors.

It is what we call the power of Framing. The way you present something can have a strong impact on people’s decision.  

In a famous experiment described by the 2002 Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow”[1], the researchers found that whether the short-term risk of surgery to treat lung cancer is described in terms of the survival rate or in terms of the mortality rate affects how likely physicians will prefer surgery to radiation treatment. In particular, since the mortality rate evokes losses while the survival rate evokes gains, the study found that surgery is a much more popular option when its risk is expressed in terms of the survival rate. Though describing risks in terms of the survival rate and mortality rate are logically equivalent, losses loom larger than gains in the physicians’ minds; hence surgery does not seem as good of an option when its risk is described in terms of losses.

It was the purpose of a session – “Mind your language” – at the Women’s Forum in Paris in November with Kristell Klosowski of Google and myself for the BVA Nudge Unit, to demonstrate the power of the language to promote diversity.

BVA Nudge Unit _ The Women's Forum

The question was: “Are your job ads unintentionally turning diverse candidates off?” with the objective to understand how language shapes inclusion, and the range of commercial tools available to de-bias the ways in which an organisation presents itself.

My role during the session was to introduce what behavioral science is and to share some experiments demonstrating the power of nudge to encourage new positive behaviors by activating some drivers of influence that we know are powerful from academic experiments.

In addition to the experiment mentioned above, I also shared another very impressive one[2] where the name of a game – “The Wall Street Game” vs “The Community Game” – changed the strategy chosen by the participants in the experiment. When the title was “The Wall Street Game”, a majority of the participants selected an individualistic strategy, whereas the majority selected a cooperative strategy when the name of the game was “The Community Game”. This experiment perfectly illustrates the power of the words on our behaviors.

Once the power of the language was demonstrated, it was time to share how we can use the power of the language to promote diversity. The co-presenter of this session, Kristell Klosowski, shared an insightful experiment conducted at Google to identify the impact of words in a job advertisement. Kristell is currently driving strategic partnerships for the Luxury & Mobility industries at Google France and is a member of the Women@Google community.

Kristell presented how Google using specific words in a job advertisement, significantly attracted more or less women to apply to this job. Such experiments demonstrate the power of very simple – but smart – interventions.

As the experiment demonstrates, you can change the world not only by educating and convincing people but, but also through the application of behavioral science principles.

BVA Nudge Unit has worked with BNP Paribas to promote more diversity, both by diversifying with more men in their Human Resources department and diversifying their Global Market business lines with more women. Among many other behavioral interventions, the BVA Nudge Unit recommended to apply the power of words in different ways.

First the recommendation was to use the power of words in the title of HR functions. For example, using HR Business Partner rather than HRBP – because men seem to be more excited than women to be in a job with a strong link to “Business”. Second, by asking men to write the job description. Even starting from the same job features, the way men described the position was more appealing for men. They don’t use the same words to describe the role as a woman would… so once again words matter.    

As the insightful Harvard Kennedy School Professor and author of “What Works” – Iris Bohnet – has written: “We can reduce gender inequality. We will use all we know about how the mind works, how biases influence decisions and outcomes, and how behavioral design can alter these. We can effect this change not in a matter of decades but in a matter of years. Even good design cannot solve all our problems. But behavioral design is the most useful and underutilized tool we have.” 

If you missed them, check out the different parts from our Diversity & Inclusion Series: Why Behavioral Science for Diversity?How to Apply Behavioral Science for Diversity, Behavioral Science Outputs for Diversity, Reducing the Impact of Stereotypes During Performance Reviews, Promoting Diversity in International Mobility by Reframing a Question and Reducing the Gender Pay Gap by Reducing Ambiguity around Negotiating Salary.

Let’s accelerate making a more gender equal world by applying Behavioral Science principles and nudge. That’s what we do at the BVA Nudge Unit, and we would love to help you encourage gender diversity by design. Get in touch.


Citations

[1] Pauker, S.G, Sox Jr. H. C., & Tversky, A (1982). On the elicitation of preferences for alternative therapies. New England journal of Medecine, 306(21), 1259-1262.

[2] Varda Liberman, Steven M. Samuels & Lee Ross. “The Name of the Game: Predictive Power of Reputations versus Situational Labels in Determining Prisoner’s Dilemma Game Moves”in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin · October 2004

Eric Singler

CEO of BVA Nudge Unit

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