Women more likely to be criticised in performance reviews

by Janie Smith04 Sep 2014
Does employee gender influence the kind of feedback you provide in performance reviews?

You might not think so, but a recent survey has shown that managers in technology companies tend to talk differently to female employees than they do to males workers.

In a Fortune article, author Kieran Snyder asked male and female tech employees to share their performance reviews for a study to see whether the reviews’ content or tone differed based on the gender of the worker.

She collected 248 reviews from 180 people, 105 of whom were men and 75 women. The reviews were from 28 companies of various sizes.

Snyder discovered that 71 female employees received negative feedback in their reviews, compared with just two men.

On the flipside, 81 men received only constructive feedback, compared with 23 women.

When it came to the type of the feedback in the reviews, 94 women were criticised, while 13 were given feedback without criticism.

When it came to men, 83 were criticised while 58 were not.

“Men are given constructive suggestions. Women are given constructive suggestions – and told to pipe down,” she wrote.

While the feedback for men tended to suggest they develop extra skills, the feedback for women included more negative personality criticism.

That kind of criticism – employees being told to watch their tone or stop being judgemental – only showed up in two of the 83 critical reviews received by male employees, but was found in 71 of the 94 critical reviews of female workers.

Snyder’s study also found that the gender of the manager doing the review did not make a difference to the nature of the feedback.

She wrote that while her data may not be completely scientific, the “directional indication is striking and calls for further investigation by managers and HR departments”.

Her survey isn’t the first to come across the different language used to describe male and female employees – ThinkProgress reported that a study by linguist Nic Subtirelu of publications and media between 1990 and 2012 found that women were called “pushy” twice as frequently as men and “bossy” nearly three times as frequently.

“At most mid-sized or large tech companies, HR leaders supervise review scores to uncover and correct patterns of systematic bias,” wrote Snyder.

“This is a call to action to bring the same rigour to the review language itself.”
Related articles

Tech companies: Still a boys' club?

HR gender bias: What's in a name? 


  • by Louise 4/09/2014 11:31:11 AM

    This isn't a 'Tech' industry only problem. As a survivor of this double standard, I fight it on a daily basis in performance reviews, training opportunities, promotions (or lack of) and still don't have an answer for it. It is so tiring and trying to have to keep on this battle but what's the alternative?

  • by HC 4/09/2014 12:05:47 PM

    While I know it is in vogue to jump on this type of data and run with it (and as a female I agree there are issues), I would like a little further information to validate this finding. I would like to see the response from the reviewing managers to determine why they used different language; was there a genuine performance/conduct issue with these female employees? Is there a reason for this behaviour in such a male dominated working environment; maybe they needed to speak up to be heard and that resulted in a negative perception. I would also like to see this study conducted across a breadth of male dominated industries to get a fairer idea of the voracity of this finding.

  • by NG 10/09/2014 1:35:50 PM

    I'd be interested in seeing this kind of review conducted in a female dominated environment, and see if there are reverse or similar findings.

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