Studies Show Performance Reviews are Sexist
Career Growth

Bummer Moment: Performance Reviews Are Officially Sexist

What if we told you your male colleague gets more feedback than you do most of the time?

Studies over the past few years have found countless divides between men and women in the workplace. Lack of equal pay. Women promoted based on performance versus men landing promotions based solely on potential. Impostor Syndrome? Tends to apply to us, not them. 


Well, the latest research from the Harvard Business Review doesn't make us feel much better: a recent study shows that when it comes to those performance reviews (you know the ones where we get insight into what we should work on the for the next year?), women hear dramatically different feedback than their male counterparts—and not because they're performing badly.

"Our research shows that women are systematically less likely to receive specific feedback tied to outcomes, both when they receive praise and when the feedback is developmental. In other words, men are offered a clearer picture of what they are doing well and more-specific guidance of what is needed to get to the next level."  

While men often receive clear, actionable feedback about the technical areas in which they can improve (thereby giving them a clear idea of what to do to ace their next review), HBR found that, at several top technology companies, vague phrases like "You had a great year" permeated women's reviews.

And when women direceive detailed feedback, it tended to focus on communication, not technicals, with little to no suggestion on how they could improve. Basically, women heard "get better at talking" or worse. In fact, across the performance review survey, managers lobbed the term "too aggressive" at women 76% of the time versus the 24% of the time they used it on men. 

These findings spell trouble for women in the workplace, particularly when it comes to rising the ranks. Given that performance reviews are used to track, you know, performance, and that women left their reviews with only a vague idea of how they could grow, whereas men left with a detailed, specific gameplan for the next phase, it's not all that surprising that men get promoted faster and into higher positions. 

To be fair, HBR suggested this bias isn't intentional (are they ever, though?). Instead, it's a result of the tension that arises when giving critical feedback "across a dimension of difference" (think race, age, gender). These days, we're all pretty careful about keeping it P.C. and that could be a factor in this issue. "When giving critical feedback to women, male managers may be especially worried about how the feedback will be received." But, HBR argues,  "This 'protective hesitation' — the failure to give feedback due to worry that the recipient might be upset — is a critical barrier in having conversations necessary to advance women’s careers."

In other words: not good, manager dudes.

Read all the research over at the Harvard Business Review

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