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

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. However, these norms are also malleable. For example, Dhar et al. (2022) show that interventions providing information and discussion about gender roles in Indian schools increase attitudes toward gender equality, and that these changes persist for years. Thus, this project aims to investigate the role of gender norms on women’s workplace experiences, inter-employee interactions, and firm productivity.

The researchers will carry out a randomised study with small and medium-sized, male-dominated manufacturing firms in Bangladesh. Using surveys and lab-in-the-field experiments, they will first document gender attitudes among managers and employees and examine their relationship with inter-employee relationships, cooperation, productivity, and firm hiring. They will then 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. The curriculum will be complemented with manager-specific workshops and monthly coaching for female employees. The researchers will be able to measure the short- and long-term causal effects of the intervention on these outcomes via two follow-up surveys, three and fifteen months after the end of the programme respectively.

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. 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. BRAC already has implemented programmes 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. Thus BRAC may scale up this programme more broadly and use the study’s evidence to also inform the design of their other programme offerings.


Asadul Islam

Monash University

Emily Beam

University of Vermont

Joshua Merfeld

Korea Development Institute (KDI)