Study: Gender inequality is due to bias, not behavior

The lack of female advancement in the workplace stems from bias, not from differences in behavior or lack of access to seniority, suggests a study featured in Harvard Business Review

The study, conducted by Humanyze, a social analytics company developed at Cambridge-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology, focuses on a large multinational firm. Researchers analyzed email and meeting schedule data from hundreds of employees over four months in combination with metadata collected from sociometric badges worn by 100 employees. The badges looked like normal identification badges, but recorded communication patterns including movement, proximity to other badges, and speech tone and volume, according to the report. Using the badges, researchers were able to track who spoke with whom, for how long, and who dominated conversations. Content of conversations was not recorded.  

Their findings revealed men and women had identical communication patterns. They had the same number of contacts, spent the same amount of time with senior leadership and divided their time similarly between online tasks, face-to-face communication and concentrated work. The badges showed direct interaction patterns with senior management was identical between men and women, and both sexes had similar "weighted centrality" in the office. Weighted centrality is a measure of how close a person is to decision-makers, other employees and the most connected people in an organization, according to the report. 

However, despite these similarities, women in this firm were not equally represented at the top ranks. Women held about 35 to 40 percent of entry level positions, but only about 20 percent of positions at the two highest levels of the company. The researchers concluded bias — not the women's behavior — was the likely cause of this disparity. 

"Bias, as we define it, occurs when two groups of people act identically but are treated differently," the authors wrote. "Our data implies that gender differences may lie not in how women act but in how people perceive their actions."

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