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Why Gender Diversity Is Everyone's Business

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Leading behavioral economist and Credit Suisse Board Member Iris Bohnet believes that when it comes to equality, change can be started immediately by nudging an organization to level the playing field.

Speaking at an event in Zurich co-hosted by Credit Suisse and 100 Women in Hedge Funds (100WHF) Bohnet called for everyone to get involved, in order to eliminate gender bias.

"For any firm to make progress in terms of leveling the playing field, everyone has to make it a part of their own decisions," she told the audience. "When we look at performance appraisals, for example, we typically find a gender bias. Many organizations evaluate their people along two dimensions – past performance and future potential and that is often where gender bias creeps in. We just can't imagine that women would want to climb up the career ladder, so we rate their potential lower. I would therefore suggest to do away with 'potential' completely."

Making Changes

As one of the world's top behavioral economists – a field that joins standard economics with psychology – Bohnet is a driving force in trying to eliminate gender bias globally. The Swiss Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School said she was not asking managers to change their mind sets from today to tomorrow, but to work towards 'de-biasing' organizations. "One very specific intervention that I am suggesting is to do comparative evaluations, not focus on one candidate at a time, but really look at several candidates at a time. Our minds need those comparisons because we cannot make absolute judgements. Our research shows that this is how we can overcome biases."

Bohnet also said companies could take a look at how existing subconscious biases could also be addressed and corrected. "I expect many changes in our organizations, starting with those things that lead to the risk of stereotyping. Take the portraits we hang on the walls at work. These may reinforce the idea of what the 'typical banker', the 'typical financial analyst' should look like. That is something we have to be very concerned about, and that can be easily changed tomorrow," she said.

I am very optimistic about Credit Suisse in particular, and I am also very optimistic about the world. I think we can make a difference.

Iris Bohnet

Positive Outlook

Bohnet said she was positive about the outlook for gender diversity. "What change will be achieved in our life time is a difficult question. Going back to the question of leveling the playing field, I am actually quite optimistic that many of the interventions I discuss in my book 'What Works' – such as orchestras that introduced blind auditions behind curtains to avoid bias – could actually be introduced tomorrow and change the playing field very, very quickly."

Committed CEO

Her professional expertise, she said, also affects her role as a Credit Suisse Board Member.

"I am happy to say that CEO Tidjane Thiam is very committed to a diverse and inclusive workforce and strives to create a level playing field," she said. She added that Credit Suisse is already doing much to address diversity, such as its 'Real Returns program' aimed at people (mostly women) returning to work after a career break. "I think Credit Suisse is walking the talk. Although much work still has to be done. I am very optimistic about Credit Suisse in particular, and I am also very optimistic about the world. I think we can make a difference."