A recent analysis of performance reviews by linguist Kieran Snyder has uncovered what seems to be a powerful bias against women who are seen as “too assertive” in the workplace — and the bias seems prevalent regardless of whether the review was conducted by a man or a woman.
Writing in the latest issue of Fortune, Snyder describes how she collected 248 performance reviews from 28 companies that ranged from large technology firms to small start-ups. The reviews came from 180 male and female managers.
Snyder was inspired to do this partly by a conversation she’d recently had with an engineer friend who was preparing performance reviews for two people on his team, a man and a woman. He wanted to promote both, but was concerned that his peers would endorse only one of them: “Jessica is really talented, but I wish she’d be less abrasive. She comes on too strong.” And the male? “Steve is an easy case, smart and great to work with. He needs to learn to be a little more patient, but who doesn’t?”
In examining the reviews, Snyder found that women received much more critical feedback than men did: About 59 percent of men’s reviews included critical feedback, while nearly 88 percent of women’s did. As for constructive feedback, the advice given to women tended to include personality criticisms, such as “stop being so judgmental” and “You can come across as abrasive sometimes. I know you don’t mean to, but you need to pay attention to your tone.”
Snyder also found that the word “abrasive” was used 17 times to describe 13 different women, but the word never appeared in men’s reviews.
Here at HRE, we’ve written about the double standard faced by women, including those in positions of authority. Here’s hoping that HR leaders of both genders take this omnipresent bias into account, and strive to help their organization’s leaders be as fair as they can.Twitter It!