Mind your language; gender bias in performance appraisals

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An interesting article on Fortune regarding a pattern which emerged in the use of language in performance appraisals in technology roles for women as distinct to men.

Broadly, the study was to see if the language was different dependent on gender; the findings were that it was – women tended to receive more critical feedback and less constructive feedback.

The headline was that women were significantly more likely to have words like ‘abrasive’, ‘emotional’ and ‘irrational’ in their reviews compared to their male counterparts; a disappointing finding indeed, but what I thought was more striking was still a prevalence of critical feedback rather than constructive feedback, particularly again for women.

It suggests to me that not only is there a need to apply some better moderation to the language used in reviews (not just ratings) as is called for by the author, but also that there is opportunity to help reviewers become better at crafting constructive feedback.

In both performance appraisals and 360 degree feedback, the true value is often found in the narrative; it’s critical that how people frame their feedback is in a way which is constructive and can be acted upon by the reviewee/recipient – it’s a skill which can be taught and shouldn’t be left to chance.

As they say, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones….but words (used in performance appraisal and 360 degree feedback) can also hurt me’





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