Can nudge theory help to boost equality for women?

Can nudge theory help to boost equality for women?


It’s Women’s History Month! 

We’ve come a long way in the fight for equality, but there’s still some way to go… could behavioural science help us get there? We’ve been looking into the nudges that help to empower women across the world, in work and in real life.


Nudges to bridge the gender gap at work


Mind your language 

It’s been shown time and time again that using the wrong language turns women off from applying for positions. For example, Amazon uses the word “wickedly” 33 times more frequently in their job descriptions than their competitors… and it’s a phrase that statistically results in more applications from men than women. In this Language Matters study, the word ‘aggressive’ put off 44% of women from applying, compared to one-third of men. The study found that cutting out words like ‘rock-star’ and replacing them with more neutral descriptions of the role were better for attracting a diverse group of candidates. 

Show openness

Advertising flexibility upfront can boost applications from women by 16%. The pandemic has changed the way we work and has shown us that flexibility is possible and popular, with 13 million Brits saying they’d like it to continue. Women are still more likely to seek part-time working to balance care and work responsibilities, so by stating up-front that new vacancies are available for part-time work – or better yet, making part-time or flexible working the default - it means women are more likely to apply.

Make it the norm to take control of your salary 

A poll of 9,000 employees in the UK found that 57% of women had never attempted to negotiate a pay rise, and that men were 23% more likely to throughout the whole of their career. One of our favourite behavioural economists, Dr Grace Lordan, has addressed the behavioural biases that can get in the way of asking for a pay rise and how to overcome them. Two of the best ways are to overcome the Fear of Being Seen as Greedy (FOBSAG) by knowing your worth, and resetting your anchors by researching the pay distribution in your company and using it as evidence when discussing with your manager.


Nudges supporting women IRL


Using the right messenger

Messages are important, but it’s often who delivers the message that has the bigger impact. In Zimbabwe, hairdressers were given training as part of a ‘Get Braids Not Aids’ campaign so they could talk about safe sex to their customers to combat HIV infections. Hairdressers are well trusted in their local communities, so because the information was offered by a familiar person in a friendly and supportive environment, it helped to overcome the stigma attached to discussing HIV. The results showed that 400 customers who had seen a female condom demonstration by a hairdresser were 2.5 times more likely to use one, and within 3 years, female condom use had gone up from 15% to 28%.

Tackling gender violence

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) was reduced by 30% in Chennai, India, through a project that saw rickshaw drivers offered money in a savings account if they stayed sober during their workday. The financial incentive reduced daytime drinking and IPV – and when it was supported with couples therapy, IPV was reduced even further to 50%.

Improving financial inclusion

Historically, women in Pakistan have had less access to bank accounts and financial services - both crucial components of financial independence. In recent years, digital wallets have grown in popularity due to the ease of having our money available on our phones. But one company found that only 10-15% of their users were women. Wanting to understand why, they found that women were much more likely to join these new digital platforms through referrals – and referrals were more likely when financial incentives were offered. By combining incentives, social norms, and language proven to appeal to their female audience, they could project new customers would increase by 31% and 10,000 of these would be women. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to behavioural nudges and how they can be used to tackle inequality. Have you come across any female-focussed nudges you think are worth shouting about? Let us know.

If you’re looking to change the behaviours of your customers for the better, then we’re here to help. Please do get in touch with us at