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Gender Bias in Performance Reviews: How to Disrupt It

gender bias

Do your employee performance reviews unknowingly promote gender bias? Odds are, the answer is “yes.”

Research published in a March 2019 issue of American Sociological Review showed that the results of teaching evaluations for male and female professors at a North American university were significantly different on a 10-point scale than on a 6-point scale. 

Whereas a higher percentage of male professors than female professors scored a 10 out of 10, the percentages were similar for male and female professors who scored a 6 out of 6. 

This means the gender gap virtually disappeared when switching from a 10-point scale to a 6-point scale. As a result, a change in the design of employee performance-rating systems could disrupt gender bias. 

The Impact of Gender Bias 

Gender bias results from ongoing associations between gender and various qualities. For instance, female employees tend to be viewed as less ambitious than male employees. As a result, female employees tend to receive vague feedback during their performance reviews. This puts female employees at a disadvantage in improving their performance. Therefore, female employees are less likely than male employees to receive compensation increases and promotions.

Because female employees are less likely than male employees to receive promotions, female employees tend to hold significantly fewer leadership positions than male employees. This affects gender equality in the workplace.

Use the following tips to disrupt gender bias in employee performance reviews.

List Questions with Multiple-Choice Answers

Performance reviews with ambiguous, open-ended questions tend to lead to subjective answers. These answers tend to skew negatively toward female employees.

Instead, the performance reviews should include questions with multiple-choice answers. This provides a clearer picture of each employee’s performance. As a result, the employees can be more fairly evaluated.

For instance, “If the employee were given the opportunity to lead a new project, how confident would you feel in their ability to handle the task?

  • Very confident: The employee excels at new projects with little guidance.
  • Confident: The employee excels at new projects with a moderate amount of guidance.
  • Not confident: The employee would need significant supervision and support.

Align Employee Feedback with Business Goals

Female employees often receive vague feedback about their performance. For instance, “Angela, your responses to partners about client matters often are not on point.” A more focused response might be, “Angela, you missed opportunities to provide clear and concise information, such as X. My thoughts on preventing this from happening again include Y.”

An even more effective response would align the employee feedback with company goals. This provides actionable ways for an employee to improve their performance and measure their success. For instance, “You exceeded expectations this year” could be replaced with, “You exceeded expectations this year by increasing your sales by 30%. Going forward, I would like to see you increase your retention rate by 15%.”

Increase the Number of Participants in the Review Process

Involving only the manager in performance reviews does not provide an accurate picture of an employee’s contributions and results. This is why a panel of reviewers should be added to the process.

For instance, ask multiple female and male employees from inside and outside the department who worked with the employee for an adequate amount of time to participate in the employee’s performance review. This provides more accurate details about how the employee adds value to the organization and specific ways they can improve their performance.

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