Are Performance Reviews Reinforcing Gender Bias?
There are little differences between men and women’s behaviours and actions in the workplace, but there can be vast differences in how they are perceived and evaluated. This perception is unintentional, but rather due to negative gender stereotypes and traditional beliefs regarding female behaviour and gender roles which have been ingrained in our human psyche for thousands of years.
One study found that people had more difficulty associating women with leadership. Women who displayed leadership qualities such as assertiveness and ambition were often labelled as abrupt and disingenuous.
This gender bias has been demonstrated by numerous studies in which with the exception of gender, the exact same version of a resume or description of successful businessperson are given to two groups of people. While both groups acknowledge that the men and women versions are competent and effective, the women are often seen as aggressive and more power-hungry than their male counterparts. These results indicate the deeply embedded roots people have in cultural ideas of men and women.
These cultural stereotypes can manifest in performance reviews. Research indicates that regardless of the manager's gender, women are more likely to receive negative and critical feedback compared to men. Often, words like bossy, abrasive, and aggressive are used to describe women’s behaviours when they lead, while words like emotional and irrational are used when women question or object a decision. In contrast, these words rarely show up in men’s reviews. Research also indicates that women are less likely to receive specific feedback tied to outcomes while men often get a clearer picture of what they are doing well and more-specific guidance of where to improve to get to the next level. This gender bias in performance reviews can provide a roadblock to women who want to advance their careers.
Here are a few tips to help confront the gender bias:
1) Be aware that gender bias exists
Being aware that gender bias exists is the first step to spotting it and ensuring it doesn’t negatively affect your workplace. Promote diversity training and appropriate bias training (check out our article on other common biases) to counter workplace biases.
2) Be conscious of the language used during feedback conversations
Women can be penalized when they exhibit the same behaviors as their male colleagues. If a woman is evaluated as being too “bossy”, create a baseline of comparison by asking "compared to whom?". This can help minimize subjective judgments on personality and leadership style. In addition, give the employees the tools they need to deliver feedback effectively. Check out our article on effective feedback for more details.
3) Increase the frequency of feedback conversations
The importance of feedback cannot be overstated (check out our blog on the importance of feedback). Unfortunately, managers give women less feedback. One study found that while women are just as likely to ask for feedback as their male colleagues, they are less likely to get it. Ensure that you are meeting with your male and female employees regularly and equally.
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