Performance appraisals are not only a required step in many professions, they also represent an occasion for employees to reflect on and discuss their yearly performance in the light of achievements and potential improvements.
Unfortunately, for women this can be a stressful experience since their gender can exacerbate certain criticisms or observations. For instance, research shows that specific terms, such as abrasive and brusque, appear more in women’s appraisals than in men’s, and that often subjective comments populate this official feedback.
There is much literature on how appraisers should consider writing performance appraisals (for references please see below). Much of this advice applies to other sectors as well, but since our focus is to address the imbalance in the technology sector we have contextualised our notes for this.
As a starting point, the appraiser should be aware of the effects of unconscious bias while writing a performance appraisal. This important aspect can be addressed by taking one of the many available unconscious bias training courses, or by suggesting that their company/institution should run one.
Mitigating unconscious bias can be effectively achieved by basing the performance appraisal on established objective criteria and adhering to them while writing. There should be no space for subjective gender-based observations.
The appraiser should also strive to be constructive when giving critical feedback.
Finally, it is important to base the appraisal on skills and abilities, rather than attributing successes or failures to gender or other personal characteristics.
Six suggestions for avoiding gender bias when writing performance appraisals in the technology sector
- Be aware of unconscious bias while writing a performance appraisal.
- Use established objective criteria and write your appraisal comments against them.
- Always be constructive if giving critical feedback.
- Base the performance appraisal on skills and abilities.
- Do not give subjective gender-based feedback.
- Do not attribute successes/failures to gender or other personal characteristics
This Guidance Note was prepared by Liz Quaglia and is available for downloading (.pdf format) in English here
The references below on the topic are well worth reading:
- Cecchi-Dimeglio, P. (2017) How gender bias corrupts performance reviews, and what to do about it, Harvard Business Review.
- Hind, P. and Baruch, Y (1997) Gender variations in perceptions of performance appraisal, Emeraldinsight (full article available from Women in Management Review 12(7), 276-289).
- McGovern, M. (2017) How gender bias affects your performance reviews, Progressive Women’s Leadership.
- Davis, K. (2014) The one word men never see in their performance reviews, FastCompany.
[Featured image from Sling – trusting this is not a copyright infringement]