Research already tells us that performance reviews tend to have a gender bias. For example, we know that women receive much less-helpful feedback than men in their performance reviews — it's typically on the vague side and tends to focus more on their personality attributes than on their actual skills and work experiences. But new research also tells us that there's bias even on the side of the receiver of feedback. That's right — workers resent feedback from women more than they do men.
Perhaps it's because women are expected to be altruistic supporters — office mothers who lift one another up and are passive bystanders to workplace concerns because, after all, they should really try to keep the peace. Right? Well, it turns out that when women do offer valuable constructive critcism — something they so desperately need in their own performance reviews — workers don't recieve it so well.
According to a recent study published in the Institute of Labor Economics, from Martin Abel, an assistant professor of economics at Middlebury College, even if women and men offer the same feedback, it can be taken very differently. Abel asked 2,700 people on Mechanical Turk, Amazon's online gig platform, to do transcriptions for a pseudo firm. Each of them was assigned a fake manager with either a female or male name (the names were deliberately chosen to take race, age, education and other factors into account).
Then 60% of the workers received either positive or negative feedback from a female or male boss that read:
Hello, This is NAME. As mentioned in the task introduction, I’m overseeing your performance in transcribing the receipts. I just went over some of the receipts. Your performance has been above / below average. I was pleased with / disappointed by your effort and attention to detail. Going forward, remember that your continued commitment will improve / lack of commitment will harm the quality of our services. NAME
Upon completion, they were asked to answer a survey about their job satisfaction and their interest in working for the firm. And what Abel discovered is disconcerting.
Both women and men were more negatively affected by criticism from female managers — so much so that a bulk of them were not interested in working in the firm in the future, leading to a 70% larger reduction in job satisfaction than critism from male managers. Moreover, men tended to dismiss the validity of female managers' criticism, though women's opinions didn't change depending on gender.
So why is women's feedback so ill-recieved? Abel suggests that the workers were "about three times more likely to associate giving praise and appropriate use of tone with female managers. By contrast, they are about twice more likely to associate giving criticism and strict expectations with male managers.” And a wide body of research tells us time and time again that, when women deviate from preconceived notions of gender norms, they make people uncomfortable and are, therefore, deemed less likable...
Gender biases and subtle sexism plagues workplaces, and until more women are in respected leadeship positions in which their likability doesn't matter (and isn't even questioned), we still have a problem.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.