In most organizations, promotion into leadership typically requires self-nomination and entry into competition via an application. However, research on gender differences in self-promotion and preferences for competition suggests that this “opt-in” process might result in fewer women choosing to compete. For example, compared to men, women tend to be less (over)confident, less likely to self-promote and exaggerate accomplishments, and less likely to seek out risks and competition. These findings suggest that women might be less inclined to apply for promotions and competitive selection processes because of the typical requirement to self-nominate, promote, and compete. Drawing from findings in behavioral science, we hypothesized that changing promotion schemes from a default where applicants must opt in (i.e., self-nominate) to a default where applicants must opt out (i.e., those who pass a qualification threshold are automatically considered for promotion, but can choose not to be considered) will attenuate gender differences.
We performed a laboratory experiment using the paradigm of Niederle and Vesterlund (2007), [https://academic.oup.com/qje/article/122/3/1067/1879500] where participants solved two-digit number additions first under a noncompetitive piece rate and then under a competitive tournament incentive scheme; in a third stage, they can chose whether to enter a tournament again. We introduced an experimental variation to this paradigm: in the third stage, participants were either assigned to an opt-in system, where as in NV they could elect to compete, or to an opt out system, where the default choice was that everyone would compete, ad those who preferred not had to state their preference to be rewarded in a non-competitive (piece rate) scheme. In the opt-in framework we quite closely replicated NV’s main result, i.e. a significantly higher share of man selected the tournament than of women. However, the gender difference was eliminated when the choice to compete was described using opt-out framing. These preliminary results suggest that organizations could make use of “opt-out” promotion schemes as a behavioral intervention to reduce the gender gap in promotion rates and ascension to leadership positions.
For the current experiment, we set out to examine if an “opt-out” promotion scheme has downstream effects on any evaluator biases in selecting candidates. Our design is similar to the one in Bohnet et al. (2015) [https://pubsonline.informs.org/doi/10.1287/mnsc.2015.2186], were participants act as evaluators, and the profiles of the “candidates” are taken from our previous experiment. We are interested in testing whether the type of promotion framing, all else constant, affects the preference for male or female candidates.