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News article15 November 2023Joint Research Centre3 min read

Breaking barriers and building bridges: the power of Behavioural Insights for advancing gender equality

Happy #EqualPayDay! Did you know that women in the EU continue to earn less than men with the average gender pay gap standing at 13%?

yellow bridge and overlaid square


Despite the progress made in recent years, gender equality is still far from being achieved, with some regions even backsliding on this important indicator. Take for instance the recent Icelandic women's strike the second in history to protest against the fact that in some professions women still get paid significantly less than their male counterparts and one in three women has experienced some form of gender-based violence.

Furthermore, this year's Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences couldn't have been more momentous: it was awarded to Prof. Claudia Goldin for her groundbreaking research on women's labour market outcomes. Her work opened doors of understanding and shed light on the importance of gender equality and equal pay for equal work.

But what can behavioural insights do to improve these inequalities? Time to dive into the EU Policy Lab's work on gender economics, through a behavioural insights lens, in particular three innovative behavioural projects, where we have been focusing on the barriers and enabling factors of gender equality and their implications for policymaking.

1. How effective are Equal Employment Opportunity Statements?

Getting or even applying for a job may depend on your gender.

This is why we set out to analyse the effectiveness of Equal Employment Opportunity statements or "EEOs" in vacancy notices. These are an affirmative-action measures to reduce the gender employment gap without imposing additional costs on companies.

Our team in the Competence Centre on Behavioural Insights wanted to know if EEO statements actually help to encourage women to apply for more demanding, better-paid jobs. What we found out from the preliminary results was very encouraging. It seems that companies declaring to be an inclusive working environment, offering equal employment opportunities to men, women, and others have seen an increase in the number of job applications from women.

It therefore becomes safe to say that EEOs have great potential to start levelling the professional playing field and promoting gender equality in the workplace.

Our project is still underway and we are also investigating the possible negative effects on job applications of men, so stay tuned for the final results!

2. How to tackle pay and job discriminations head-on?

Discrimination can take many forms, from unequal job assignments to disparities in compensation, and both employers and employees play a role in creating a fair and thriving work environment. So what else could help eliminate, or at least reduce, pay and job discrimination: some of the most significant hurdles in the quest for achieving gender equality?

Pay transparency policies are another key to solving this form of inequality. This is why the Competence Centre for Behavioural Insights looked into how effective pay transparency policies are in reducing disparities between men and women in the workforce. The effects seem to swing both ways: when employees discover that colleagues doing a similar job earn more or less than them, it triggers a spectrum of responses in terms of effort, motivation, and grievances.

For these reasons, our study highlights the need to understand the behavioural dynamics at work in the context of pay and job discrimination. By looking at how employees react to these challenges, we aim to offer invaluable insights for organisations striving to cultivate more equitable and inclusive workplaces.

3. How can we address gender bias in higher education?

No sector or industry is safe from gender inequality, including academia and higher education, which remain an ongoing challenge for the EU.

Here in the EU Policy lab, we are using behavioural insights to analyse gender differences in teaching. The way we are going about this is to analyse a large amount of university syllabi to explore systematic differences in pedagogical approaches adopted by male and female professors. This can range from how they structure their courses, what they require students to read, and how they choose their assignments.

In this ongoing study, we are also looking into what drives and determines the gender composition of academic teams, such as co-teaching, and the volume of courses taught by male versus female professors. At the end of this study, we will have a better understanding of how syllabi and course materials help to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education.

Find out more about Equal Pay Day and stay tuned for the results of these ongoing studies to find out more about how we can break barriers and build bridges in the pursuit of gender equality.


Publication date
15 November 2023
Joint Research Centre
EU Policy Lab tags