When it comes to workplace evaluations, men get performance reviews. Women, a new analysis suggests, get personality critiques.
At least that's the finding of a study conducted by Fortune contributor Kieran Snyder, who asked men and women working in tech to submit their annual reviews. As detailed in the article, headlined "The abrasiveness trap," Snyder noticed a marked difference by gender. Of the 248 reviews assessed, male employees were more than three times as likely to receive only constructive criticism in their evaluations, compared to women. Snyder also found that the nature of the critical feedback differed - men typically received suggestions about developing new skills - for example, "take time to slow down and listen." Women received similar advice, and then some, Snyder found. The criticisms were more personality based. For example: "You can come across as abrasive sometimes. I know you don't mean to, but you need to pay attention to your tone."
Explains Snyder, "This kind of negative personality criticism - watch your tone! step back! stop being so judgmental! - shows up twice in the 83 critical reviews received by men. It shows up in 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women."
As well, the comments in her sample were not affected by the gender of the manager giving the review.
Words such as bossy, strident, aggressive, emotional and irrational were all counted at least twice in the female employee reviews. Abrasive was used 17 times for 13 women. But of all those words, Snyder found, only "aggressive" was used as a male adjective, though not always in a negative way. In two of the three cases, the manager was asking the male employee to be more aggressive.
Performance reviews achieve mixed results in general, with one study suggesting that as many as 30 per cent actually lead to a drop in performance, and other research showing negative feedback has the most damaging effect on the highest-performing staff. If women are being called "emotional" when they object, or "strident" when they lead, as Snyder found, it's not a stretch to understand why they may, even unconsciously, contribute less often in meetings, or be less likely to apply for promotions.
Have you been received a performance review that you felt was biased by gender? Share your experience on the role of gender, positive or negative, in the workplace.