Feedback for women: Style vs Substance
Why feedback for women still suffers unconscious bias
Feedback for women tends to focus on style and personal perceptions, rather than substance and impact. Why is this and what can we do to change it?
Annual performance reviews are coming under the microscope generally, but women in particular pull the short straw. Women tend to receive critical feedback, rather than positive feedback or even critical objective feedback. Feedback for women also tends to focus on the style of their presence or performance, rather than the substance of the content.
Annual assessments are usually subjective. They are based on personal perceptions of those involved in the process. This can be the person's boss, although some companies use wider measures such as peer content or even the views of direct reports. It means that feedback for all, not just feedback for women, is potentially laden and distorted by bias. This becomes more nuanced because of the way we view acceptable male and female behaviour and characteristics in the workplace.
Male-coded feedback for women
Studies show that certain behaviours which are viewed as being positive in a man get a negative spin when applied to a woman. David G. Smith, Judith E. Rosenstein, Margaret C. Nikolov published research in HBR on the different words we use to describe male and female leaders. They highlight these differences:
Certain attributes associated with leadership, that is behaviours which are considered to generate success, are usually male coded and more typically assigned to men. The study suggests that "The most commonly used positive term to describe men was analytical, while for women it was compassionate. At the other extreme, the most commonly used negative term to describe men was arrogant. For women, it was inept. We found statistically significant gender differences in how often these terms (and others) were used (relative to the other positive or negative terms available for selection) when describing men and women — even though men’s and women’s performances were the same by more objective measures."
Does your work give you the feedback you need? If not, contact 3Plus NOW for a Career Audit with skill testing and full report.
Research from Stanford University, Shelley Correll and Caroline Simard, indicates that feedback for women is less precise and specific than the feedback given to men. A woman's performance is also likely to be rated on non-content issues such as working shorter hours or the style of their performance (aggressive, shrill, abrasive, emotional etc.). Very often women do not receive credit for their work, so large chunks of their job responsibilities are unacknowledged.
We have to find a way to overcome the bias in performance evaluations and the way feedback for women is delivered. We can do this by switching from the annual performance review to an ongoing appraisal system. It could also be linked to employee engagement monitoring. The connection between strong leaders, effective managers and motivated teams is strong.
Giving feedback on an ongoing basis protects the "female" style of leadership identified as being collaborative and participative. This will ensure that it is not lost to the male coded style of producing results, especially under pressure.
- Women will receive objective feedback in real-time rather than an annual appraisal frequently based on biased or inaccurate hindsight. This reduces the tendency to give women style or personality based appraisals, which are not constructive.
- They are able to see which team members are engaged or not.
- They would have an immediate opportunity to adjust their performances in response to comments.
Companies need to take steps to:
- Introduce a new style of performance evaluation based on transparency and participation, rather than the overview of one boss. There are multiple apps on the market to facilitate this.
- Give all staff unconscious bias training to create a bias conscious and open-minded culture, so that evaluations have real-time meaning.
- Tie performance assessment into employee engagement systems.
In the meantime until such more inclusive appraisal systems become the norm, women need to start challenging the nature of the feedback they receive by traditional methods. "I hear what you say about your experience as my tendency to be aggressive. What is your view of my strategy for the new product launch..."
As things stand leadership is still perceived as a male coded activity. Our performance evaluation systems are rigged to favour skills and styles associated with men. Feedback for women currently contains subtle biases which convey the message that women do not have the same leadership potential as their male colleagues.
Make sure your company is doing everything it can to tackle unconscious bias. 3Plus offers Unconscious Bias Training Workshops. Find out more HERE.
Found that interesting?
Learn more about our services
Make your dreams a reality with a professional evaluation of your career to date.
The evidence is in. More women in your company can deliver 35% greater financial returns. (Catalyst)
Dates for the Diary
September 17th Latham Watkins Brussels 1200
In-house corporate event
Inclusive Leadership Workshop
September 20th EIGE Vilnius 0900
How to combat sexism in the workplace
Peer review of EU booklet authored by Dorothy Dalton
September 30th BD Foundation Webinar with Dorothy Dalton (online)
Topic: Leading with Emotional Intelligence
October 3rd JUMP Hub Brussels
Gender equality: how to build an attractive employer brand without falling into the trap of “gender washing”
Infrabel, rue de France, 9, 1070 Brusells
Open registration : http://jump.eu.com/hub-sessions/gender-equality-build-attractive-employer-brand-without-falling-trap-gender-washing/
October 15th NEHRA Event at AXA Brussels
Best Diversity and Inclusion Practices
October 22nd and 23rd Unleash Conference Paris
Open registration: https://unleashgroup.io
Download and listen free podcasts
How to Create an Effective USP What is a USP? Our Unique Selling Point or UVP (Unique Value Proposition) is our key core message about where...read more
How to Rethink the Modern Workplace for Gender Equality New research shows that diversity and inclusion is a top priority for leaders. So why...read more
Menopause in the workplace In this podcast with Nicki Williams award winning author, keynote speaker and Founder of Happy Hormones for Life,...read more
How to Cultivate Empathy in the Workplace Nancy Milton, international business communications expert, keynote speaker and author, share some vital...read more
Taking Care of your COW Tanvi Guatam, international Personal Branding expert says there is a misconception out there that a personal brand is...read more
The importance of Hard Talk Dawn Metcalfe, author of Managing the Matrix and Hard Talk, shares with us tips to achieve the lasting communication...read more
When Does Female Rivalry Turn into Sabotage There’s a lot of stuff written on social media about female rivalry and competition between women. Some...read more
Goal setting tips to boost your career The happiest people are those that really love their jobs. Those that don’t, dread Sunday nights and...read more
Sexism: How to stage a Bystander Intervention in the Workplace In this power coaching podcast, we're going to tackle one of the questions...read more
How to Get Noticed by Head Hunters & Recruiters In this power coaching podcast, we're going to tackle one of the questions asked multiple...read more
Conscious inclusion means not just creating initiatives, but creating a culture where people can speak out and raise awareness of unacceptable behaviour.read more
Most of us have been on a road-trip at some point, but you may be surprised to learn what leadership skills the road can teach you.read more
The male-coded workplace is defined by several characteristics that discourage female participation, and career fear is at the heart of it.read more