Gender Norms at Work: Impacts on Women’s Hiring and Workplace Experiences in Bangladesh

Lead researchers:

Prof. Asad Islam, Monash University

Partners: Monash University, Australia

Timeline: June 2023 to December 2025

Status: Ongoing

Method: Quantitative

The overview of the project:

Constraints on women’s economic opportunities impede their active contribution to economic development. Restrictive gender norms affect women’s access to employment by limiting avenues for employment or advancement and creating unpleasant or unsafe workplace environments (Jayachandran 2021; Merfeld forthcoming). However, these norms are also malleable (Dhar et al. 2022).

We propose a randomized study with small and medium-sized manufacturing firms in Bangladesh to understand the role of gender norms on women’s workplace experiences, inter-employee interactions, and firm productivity. We will work with BRAC and the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) to implement a year-long intensive gender sensitivity curriculum with managers and employees at randomly selected firms. This hands-on curriculum will be built by incorporating elements from BRAC’s currently gender equality and skills development programming with elements from current best practices (CARE International 2014, Dhar et al. 2022, Alvin et al 2021) to discuss gender equality and stereotyping, identifying and combatting workplace sexual harassment, promoting teamwork and cooperation, and fostering a woman-friendly workplace. It will be complemented with manager-specific workshops and monthly coaching for female employees.

Using surveys and lab-in-the-field experiments, we will first document gender attitudes among managers and employees and examine their relationship with inter-employee relationships, cooperation, productivity, and firm hiring. We will then assign half of firms to receive the gender sensitivity curriculum and then measure the causal effects of this intervention on these outcomes. We will measure the immediate impacts (three months after the end of the program) and longer-term impacts (15 months after the end of the program) of the program.

The results of this study will provide causal evidence on the link between gender attitudes, employee interactions, and productivity, which will extend our understanding of social norms as a barrier to women’s economic empowerment (Jayachandran 2021). Additionally, it will provide policy-relevant insights of interest to both firms, NGOs like BRAC, and government bodies into low-cost interventions to improve workplace gender attitudes, which in turn may influence women’s empowerment and agency, employee satisfaction, and firm productivity. Our findings will contribute to two main areas of outreach and implementation within BRAC’s agenda: gender equality and promoting skills development. BRAC already has implemented programs to promote women’s empowerment that focus on female entrepreneurs and youth. It also currently works with many SMEs to promote productivity and firm growth. Our conversations with BRAC staff indicate that they are interested in scaling this program more broadly and that this evidence will also inform the design of their other program offerings.

We will disseminate these results in academic, policy, and practitioner circles through the creation of academic and policy papers with accompanying policy briefs. We will hold two practitioner dissemination and two policy dissemination events, in addition to presenting our academic results at international conferences and workshops. We will leverage the reach of BIGC/BRAC and CEDS to ensure our results are disseminated and used broadly, and we will make public the generated data sets to promote additional policy and academic research.