Loughborough University have invited CESS Postdoctoral Research Officer, Noah Bacine to present his paper entitled “Disrupting Gender Norms with Incentives” this Wednesday, 25th February.
The gender gap in earnings and representation in leadership positions continues to vex economists. Recent research points to the potential importance of gender differences in the allocation of low-promotability tasks in the workplace: women are more likely to volunteer and more likely to be asked to take responsibility for these tasks, and this lowers their rates of promotion (Babcock et al. 2017). We examine one potential solution for this problem. We introduce two types of decision makers – low-cost and high-cost – that can be thought of as an explicit recognition of the inherent differences in costs of performing the tasks. When the cost of performing the task is private, we find that the gender gap in volunteering is low among low-cost individuals, while among high-cost individuals, the gender gap is even larger than in the original study. When information about the cost of task completion becomes public, we find that low-cost individuals are much more likely to volunteer, and indeed, low-cost men volunteer at a higher rate than women. In the final treatment, we look at the demand side of task completion by asking subjects to request other subjects to volunteer in the presence of asymmetric costs. Here the gender gap disappears: we find no gender gap in requests received or overall volunteering. Our results suggest that gender may serve as a focal point for determining who “should” volunteer in the absence of other relevant information. Commonly-known relevant information can disrupt the gender norm. Beyond this, our work suggests that the harmful effects of asymmetries in low-promotable task completion may be alleviated by providing more information about individual differences in the costs of doing so, or by explicitly introducing incentives to perform the tasks.