Questions women can ask to get actionable feedback

by Feb 1, 2022

Ask for actionable feedback

Questions women can ask to get actionable feedback which is a key component to career success and personal development. 


Even though the number of women in the workplace represents 50% of the workforce, this is not reflected in their advancement through the ranks. There are many reasons for this, but a major one is the lack of actionable feedback on their performance. Organisations are male-coded and dominated. The sometimes opaque standards are much clearer to young male professionals because they are part of the club and know and understand the unwritten rules from early on.

So if you don’t get actionable feedback, don’t wait for someone to get round to doing it. Ask for it.

Questions women can ask to get actionable feedback


Unequal feedback

It won’t come as a surprise that not all developmental feedback is created equal. Research from Elena Doldor, Madeleine Wyatt, and Jo Silvester, based on the development of computerised text analysis gives a much clearer idea of the differences in the type of feedback given to men and women. They have found that there are 4 key ways in which the feedback managers give to women tends to be less actionable and therefore less effective than that given to men.

Developmental feedback for female employees tends to

  • focus on delivery rather than vision.
  • advise on coping with rather than leveraging organisational politics
  • collaboration rather than assertiveness.
  • present a lack of confidence as a fundamental shortcoming, rather than a specific skill that can be developed.


How to correct gender bias in feedback

Based on the disparities in actionable feedback, the research gives concrete ways to handle this from a managerial perspective. But if the manager is not forthcoming – the woman will have to learn to ask for it herself. Based on the disparities in actionable feedback the research gives concrete ways to handle this from a managerial perspective. But if the manager is not forthcoming – the woman will have to learn to ask for it herself.   There are some questions women can ask to get actionable feedback which are better than others. The most effective ones are direct and specific.

1. Vision

Too often, women get pigeonholed into operational support roles (delivery), rather than being encouraged to develop a broader vision and strategy. To help them move past their areas of technical expertise into leadership roles, clearly managers should encourage female employees to think strategically and longer-term. Women have to move out of operational support thinking into a strategic mindset.

Questions women can ask to get actionable feedback include:

  • “What are the strategic aspects of the job you need me to pay more attention to?”
  • “What areas of expertise do you need me to develop to achieve that?”


2. Political Skills

Workplace politics are frequently cited by women as a major turn-off to rising up the ranks. However, research shows that political behaviours such as networking, negotiating, and influencing others are not only positive but vital for progression to senior roles.  Turning a blind eye to office politics (or worse yet, attempting to avoid it entirely) is an approach that can have a negative impact on career progression.

Managers should encourage their female employees to embrace a more proactive political outlook. One way is when they map out a career plan to help them identify key contacts who will be their door openers. They should take it a step further and make key introductions to potential sponsors. Mentoring input on some of the organisational sub-text and hidden agendas will go a long way to sorting out what can be a mystery.

This is when building a circle of success is critical and will proactively mean plotting out the key players needed for career advancement and noting any gaps.

Questions women can ask to get actionable feedback include:

  • “Who would you recommend would be helpful to advancing (a specific project) and can you make an introduction?
  • Who else do you suggest I include in my circle of success.
  • “How can I make my network more diverse.”
  • “Can you get me into x meetings, x event?
  • Can I lead x assignment (highly visible)

So do you want to be prepared? Contact 3Plus for a complimentary Zoom call to assess your career needs.

Questions women can ask to get actionable feedback

 3. Confidence

The HBR research suggests that managers give men very directional feedback around “developing confidence for specific skills, such as managing meetings or communicating with different audiences, while women were given more generic advice to simply “become more self-confident”

Women were not given more explicit guidelines on how to become generically more self-confident. Bearing in mind there is a connection for women between confidence and competence which is stronger than for men. Women frequently undervalue their own skill levels.

Questions women should ask to get actionable feedback include:

  • “How would you rank my competence level x activity?”
  • “Which areas do you think I need to become more confident in and how can I achieve that level of competence?
  • “How can I demonstrate my competence  to decision-makers


4. Assertiveness double bind

On top of this men are encouraged to be more assertive while women are directed into being collaborative and liked. If women are assertive they frequently experience pushback for being aggressive. When a woman speaks her mind and is assertive, she is likely to be labelled aggressive. When men are perceived to be effective leaders women are perceived as being difficult or confrontational.

The words we choose when describing someone’s performance in the workplace matter. They can have a significant impact on a career so it’s important to be precise.

Learn how to manage bias with our Unconscious Bias Training Workshops.

Questions women should ask to get actionable feedback include:

  • “Help me understand when you thought I was being aggressive?”
  • “What behaviour do you specifically have in mind?”
  • “Who has raised this issue / when / where /why”

Value of feedback

Actionable feedback is a key component to career success and personal development. The lack of it puts women at a disadvantage compared to their male counterparts.


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Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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