5 tips to manage bias when giving feedback

by Apr 30, 2019

Don’t gender stereotype, make sure you manage bias when giving feedback

Learning how to manage bias when giving feedback isn’t a quick fix, but there are some simple ways to rapidly improve.

Our post on the way women differentiate to their male colleague in the ways they process and receive feedback raised some interesting points on how best to manage bias when giving feedback, both for male leaders and even female ones. Gender bias afflicts women as well as men. The post highlighted three different subtexts and traps in the process:

  • How women process feedback

Research from Shastry Shurchkov and her co-authors from Wellesley College in 2018, suggests that men attribute success to personal achievement and failure to bad luck. Women take failure personally and attribute success to luck – or the contributions of others.

  •  The type and frequency of the feedback women receive

Women tend to receive more non-specific feedback than their male peers, because male executives can be afraid to give direct feedback. In male-coded environments, they are influenced by unconscious bias and set benchmarks for success measured against male behaviour and expectations. However, if women conform to those standards they can experience backlash. An assertive woman becomes “difficult,” or a passionate woman “emotional.”

  •  The way men give feedback

Men are frequently reluctant to give one-on-one feedback to women, especially if there is a negative component. They fear a lengthy, perhaps even emotional discussion. But this wider reluctance to let women know how they are doing professionally is a real barrier to women advancing in their careers, as regular feedback is seen as important to successful performance. Men dominate the senior leadership echelons, so women must have constructive, frequent and actionable input from their peers and bosses.

manage bias when giving feedback

Women encounter gender bias in every element of the talent management process. The tools and systems used tend to evaluate performance and therefore professional success tends to be male coded. It’s important to find a way forward.

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5 tips to manage bias when giving feedback

If you are a manager supervising the work of female reports or peers, here are some tips to manage bias when giving feedback:

1. Focus on substance

If you are giving feedback to female reports, think about what you are saying. The content should be concrete, precise and constructive, as well as linked to both tangible KPIs and anticipated outcomes. Research shows that women receive feedback which focuses on style rather than substance. Your commentary should be specific and avoid style. If that is an issue, double check bias. When men are given feedback, it tends to connect professional goals and technical skills with performance levels that boost career advancement.

2. Test your Assumptions

Make sure you are not making gender-based assumptions about your female reports around their skills, goals, and interests in your direct reports. Many women are happy to relocate, and men may not want to absorb the extra workload simply because they are men. Check in first by asking questions.

3. Monitor your blind spots

We all have blind spots, and each one has them in different places. We need to develop an awareness about our own unconscious biases and how they impact all talent management decisions. They may be deeply gender-coded around women not wanting to travel or leave their kids, or that men are the main revenue generators. This stereotyping can impact the way work is allocated, promotion decisions and even vacation allocation. If in doubt, get feedback.

4. Become a sponsor

Commit to becoming an ally, champion and the cheerleader for the women on your team. Make sure you are aware of their achievements and check in regularly for updates. If you feel they are being falsely modest, encourage them to toot their own horns!

5. Make data-based decisions

Assess the allocation of the hot projects neutrally based on hard data. Look at the skill sets required for the role. When you have made a final decision, check whether that person is open – regardless of gender. Remember, women tend to need to be talked into opportunities more than men. Follow through on your role as a sponsor.

It is possible to learn to pay attention and manage bias when giving feedback, even if we can’t eliminate it totally. It’s important that we all start to do that as soon as we can.

Gender stereotyping is often unconscious, but can have huge ramifications, especially in the office. Learn how to manage it with our coaching sessions on Unconscious Bias Training Workshops.

If you feel passionate about gender balance and topical issues impacting women in the workplace 3Plus would be delighted to publish your work. Don't wait - send it in

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