Overcoming Gender Bias in Performance Feedback #1: Series Introduction

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“You need to work on your executive presence.”

“I think what’s holding you back is a lack of confidence.”

“You’re too assertive. You need to be more of a team player.”

“It may not be fair, but as a woman, you’re going to have to work longer and harder to prove yourself here.”

“You’re doing a great job.” (followed by no pay raise and no promotion)

If you’re a woman, it’s likely you’ve heard this type of feedback during a performance review at some time or another in your career. And chances are, you left that review feeling frustrated, unmotivated, and confused. You are not alone! Research has repeatedly indicated that women receive performance feedback that is based on differential standards and double binds; is sometimes patronizing and protective; and is vague and not tied to specific business outcomes.

If you’re a manager or supervisor, you may have given the type of feedback cited in the examples above. We tend to engage in the same behavioral patterns we see modeled by those above us in the organizational hierarchy. We learn how to give feedback based on the type of feedback we’ve received ourselves. You may believe you are giving helpful feedback but have also noticed that the women who work for you aren’t advancing and don’t seem to make behavioral changes based on the feedback you’ve provided. The purpose of this blog series is to help you, as someone responsible for evaluating the performance of direct reports, to provide more helpful, challenging, and unbiased feedback to the women who report to you. It’s never too late to do better! Not only will working to improve your feedback help your employees grow and advance, but you will also benefit from the prestige that accompanies leaders who have high-performing direct reports.

In my research on this subject, I’ve identified three consistent themes of unhelpful feedback given to women:

  1. Patronizing feedback that aims to protect women’s feelings

  2. Vague feedback

  3. Feedback that is focused on personality rather than business outcomes

Over the next few weeks, I’ll address each of these themes and provide examples and suggestions to help you provide feedback that will motivate your direct reports to excel. At the end of the series, I’ll provide a downloadable PDF feedback guide for you to use in providing feedback to the women who report to you. Stay tuned!

Jaime GoffComment