• Managing people

2 Drivers of Inequality at Work

Columbia’s Prof Mabel Abraham highlights two causes of gender inequality in the workplace


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To redress gender inequality, we need to understand its root causes.  The BBC recently promised to close its gender pay gap by 2020. High-profile companies like the BBC have for some years been saying they are “Going to fix it.” But despite being well-documented and eliciting many well-meaning initiatives the problem still exists.

“We really need to move beyond this notion of documenting that it’s there,” says Mabel Abraham, Assistant Professor of Management at Columbia Business School. “Showing that inequality exists, I think that’s the easy part. The difficult part is moving beyond these baseline correlations… to start to really get at underlying mechanisms and understand how to unpack these.”

In this short video Professor Mabel Abraham discusses how we need to uncover the drivers of gender inequality if we are serious about attaining gender parity in our organizations:

Professor Abraham’s recent research, in collaboration Tristan L. Botelho at Yale School of Management, considered two key drivers of gender inequality – Evaluation and Networks – and suggests some remedies:


Biased evaluation processes can affect recruitment, selection and promotion. The study found, for example, that bias when hiring is noticeable when there is a large volume of options. “So, one thing companies can actually do is… minimize the number of candidates that they’re considering,” says Abraham.


Bias in networking can contribute to holding careers back. The study found, for example, that gender bias was prevalent when we try to account for someone else’s preferences. “If you know someone would be really valuable to you, you don’t want to rely on someone else to speak on your behalf. You want to develop that tie directly. You want to overcome the potential that somebody could be hesitant to connect you simply because they anticipate the partner being biased,” says Abraham

Whether motivated by a desire for social justice, or because it’s good for the bottom line, most progressive organizations believe they should be fostering gender parity, but progress is slow.

The booming technology sector, for example, is dominated by men and even when women do enter it they are earning less. The downside of this is both social injustice and bad commerce; as without women in the sector decisions affecting consumers and investments are skewed to a male perspective. Abraham quotes from Melinda Gates, “If we don’t have women in the tech space, we won’t even be asking ourselves some of the right questions.”

Columbia Business School is the only Ivy League institution that delivers a learning experience where academic excellence meets real-time exposure to the pulse of business in New York City.

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