Are you giving equitable feedback?

Keep doing what you’re doing, you’re doing great!

How many times have you heard that phrase before in an annual performance review? It can be difficult to be on the receiving end of vague feedback like this, but it can also be detrimental for more reasons than you might think. It’s critical to give members of your team feedback that is both specific and equitable from one employee to the next.

Why equitable? According to a recent study from Stanford University, 57% of generic, unactionable feedback like this was given to women. Researchers found that specific business outcomes like “his ability to make technical terms accessible and appealing to the customer brought in three major contracts” appeared 60% of the time in men’s reviews, but only 40% appeared in women’s. Although the difference isn’t huge, it is inadvertently putting women at a lower pedestal when it comes to their job performance and promotion opportunities.

A study was conducted to explore gender differences in how advice was framed for female leaders and for male leaders. The four profound difference are as below:

Research shows that feedback provided to women tends to be less actionable and less useful for leadership progression than feedback given to men, making it less likely that women will advance to more senior positions. If we want the leadership pipeline to be more equitable- especially in the C-Suite, we have to start setting everyone up for success by providing value-added and specific feedback for growth.

So, How Can We Minimize Gender Bias in Feedback Loops?

Standardize the Evaluation:

One way to tackle gender bias within feedback is to create a standardized method to evaluate all employees equitably. For instance, identify three product or business outcomes for every employee. Doing this consistently,, will help managers keep track of what their employees are contributing individually and how it links into overall department or company goals.

Don’t limit this strategy to formal evaluations or performance reviews; informal, conversational praise should also be made specific. For instance, If Lana has juggled several tasks on a tight schedule with little assistance, rather than saying “good job”, offer specific appreciation. By taking the extra minute to state what Lana did and why it mattered, she will move into learning mode and be excited for the chance to up-level again.

Create an Impartial Work Environment:

Women are often praised when they fulfill traditional stereotypes, such as being “warm”, “friendly” and “organized”. On the other hand, men are often described with purposeful words such as “assertive”, “decisive” and “has business sense”.

Falling into this common pattern of praising women as helpers and men as leaders depicts a diversion of tasks – women will often volunteer to pitch in on office housework or planning the office party, but men just aren’t expected to. Simply creating a list of these office chores and rotating turns between each team member can create a more balanced and impartial work environment.

Support & Advocate for Women Showcasing Themselves at Work:

In addition to recognizing specific contributions, let’s make the conscious effort of supporting females who self-promote without being viewed as violating the norm of females “being humble”. Encouraging women to be visible, rather than invisible, helps build confidence and offers permission for others to do the same thereby continuing to shatter the glass ceiling in organizations that provide more praise, opportunity and favoritism towards men.

Ask Women about their Career Aspirations:

Managers should invite women to be explicit about their leadership aspirations and proactively share them with mentors/sponsors while also pursuing development opportunities. Some conversation starters include:

• What are your leadership aspirations for the next 3-5 years?
• How will you pursue them? What and who might enable you?
• In a year’s time, what steps will you have taken to achieve that leadership goal?
• How can I support you in achieving your biggest career goal?

These changes are small, yet the impact is huge.

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