How Gender Bias Creeps into Performance Reviews

June 17, 2018

Women still haven’t caught up to men in the workplace

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Pay Gap Report, the average pay for men in 2017 was $21,000, but for women it was only $12,000. There hasn’t been meaningful improvement in closing this gap in the last 10 years, though not for lack of effort. Many developed nations do have regulations about pay equality now, including the UK which requires some employers to publish calculations of their own pay gap each year.

One way to close the gap is for more women to be promoted into higher paying management positions within their organizations. That means competing on a level playing field with men for top jobs. However, gender bias often factors into performance reviews and selection committees, making it more difficult for women to move into leadership. Globally, only 22% of senior managers are women.

 

When it comes to leadership roles, women face a “double bind”

If you’re trying to ferret out potential bias in performance reviews, begin by looking at the reviews of women in leadership roles or those in line to be promoted next into leadership. Research demonstrates that both men and women believe men have greater leadership skills and potential, yet when leaders are actually scored on effectiveness, there is no difference associated with gender.

However, women are often placed into a double bind as they try to move up into leadership positions. Studies revealed that when women claim their accomplishments and negotiate boldly on their own behalves, they may be judged as pushy, abrasive, and bossy while a man may be perceived as confident and ambitious. If women seek to build consensus and focus on teamwork, they may be judged as too meek or insecure to take the lead.

 

How female performance reviews are different

Interesting research has been conducted to compare differences in the types of feedback and the language used on both men’s and women’s performance reviews:

  • When tech entrepreneur Kieran Snyder read reviews, she found that fewer men (59%) received negative feedback than women (88%) on their performance reviews. Further, on the critical employee reviews, criticism regarding the employees’ personalities, such as “watch your tone” or “stop being so judgmental”, were leveled at most women (71 out of 94 reviews) and almost none of the men (2 out of 83 reviews). This occurred regardless of whether the reviewing manager was male or female!
  • Harvard researcher, Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio, found that on performance reviews, women receive critical subjective feedback (as opposed to positive feedback or even critical objective feedback) 1.4 times more often than men. Additionally, when they receive critical feedback, it tends not to be subjective and does not give women specific examples or other information to help them improve.

9 ways to guard against gender bias in performance reviews

To ensure women can move up the ladder just as effectively as men within your organization, it is essential to guard against gender bias in performance reviews and managerial feedback. Here are nine suggestions to help your organization minimize—and hopefully eliminate—gender bias in your reviews and promotion decisions:

Managers

  1. Train managers—both men and women—to recognize and confront their own gender bias.
  2. Train managers about the differences between subjective and objective feedback and encourage them to try to provide more objective observations of employee performance.
  3. Train managers to include both positive and critical feedback in performance reviews, whenever possible.

Systems

  1. Incorporate scales and other objective measurements into your performance review system to help managers evaluate every employee consistently.
  2. Provide employees with self-service access to their current and past performance review information.
  3. Invest in systems that enable you to evaluate employees and provide feedback more often than once per year. Continuous feedback and measurement will tend to even out bias and yield more comprehensive views of each employee.

Employees

  1. Give employees a way to report bias back to the company.
  2. Provide employees with an anonymous way to provide managers with feedback.
  3. Consider incorporating peer reviews into your evaluation process to give a more rounded view of employee performance.

HR can play a leading role, both in analyzing performance reviews for signs of bias and in training supervisors to combat their own biases. Talent Management solutions from Asure can help you create a strong consistent process for reviewing employee performance and making promotion decisions.