Impact Lab

From Ideal Worker To Ideal Workplace: Using Behavioral Design to Create More Equitable Companies

by ideas42 and TIME’S UP Foundation

March 2021

Each year, half of the U.S. population loses millions of dollars and is more likely to be impoverished because of an entrenched inequality: the gender pay gap. Women—who now comprise the majority of household breadwinners in many states—lack the same economic opportunities as men and are paid unfairly for their contributions, significantly reducing their earnings over their lifetimes. Despite greater parity in educational attainment and work experience between men and women, progress on closing the pay gap has stalled since the 1990s, and it remains a persistent problem that exacerbates poverty, harms families, and stalls the economy.

Laws and policies exist to address discriminatory pay practices—including by requiring equal pay for equal work, removing barriers to bringing legal claims, and promoting transparency and reporting on the pay gap. And yet even with those systems in place, discrimination and inequality continue to be both created and perpetuated by human behavior.

In response, TIME’S UP Foundation and nonprofit behavioral design firm ideas42 released research that introduces a behavioral science approach to building equitable workplaces. In this paper, we aim to highlight and address the human factor by introducing a new way of thinking about how to change behaviors— through behavioral design.

Our research suggests that the perpetuation of ideal worker norms is at the root of the gender pay gap—and that behavioral design is an approach that can help uproot them for good by giving employers a useful set of tools to redesign work and workplaces. We envision workplaces that reinforce positive new standards for employers rather than upholding harmful old expectations for employees, and where employers are held accountable for taking action.

The report is designed to help employers reimagine their role in creating more fair and dignified workplaces for all.

As a first illustration of this new approach, we tackled the persistent existence of the gender wage gap in the United States, over a half century since the passage of the Equal Pay Act. Below are actionable steps employers can leverage right away to close the pay gap and improve their workplaces. 

These ideal workplace standards and behavioral strategies are not comprehensive, but rather are a starting point to help employers reimagine their role in creating fair and dignified workplaces for all. While behavioral design can play a vital role in reducing the inequalities that perpetuate the pay gap, it isn’t a silver bullet. Eliminating the gender pay gap and creating real and lasting change in workplaces will require many different concurrent tactics—including the passage of federal, state, and workplace policies.

This paper is a product of the TIME’S UP Impact Lab.