Stanford University Study Shows How to Reduce Gender Bias in Performance Reviews

A new study conducted at Stanford University finds although workplace evaluations are supposed to be merit-based, gender bias too often influences how supervisors rate employees, resulting in women having to meet a higher bar than their male colleagues to advance professionally.

The research team coded the language used in performance reviews of employees at a Fortune 500 technology company and analyzed the numeric ratings on worker evaluations. Using the “viewing and valuing social cognitive processing” model, the scholars identified which employee behaviors managers noticed (viewed) and which ones they rated highly (valued).

“We want people to realize that when you’re evaluating someone, you are not just documenting their behavior, as if you’re some kind of computer,” explains co-author Alsion Wynn, a research associate at Stanford. “You are interpreting their actions, and there’s a question about whether there’s bias in what you notice, what you remember, and how you categorize someone’s behavior — how you are, in essence, viewing their behavior. And then there’s also bias in the value you attach to those behaviors and how you assign rewards based on whether you think someone’s behavior is good or bad. Bias can enter into any of those processes.”

“What we found is that managers are going into a process where they have to evaluate someone, but they don’t have a clear sense of what exactly they’re supposed to be doing,” said lead author Shelley J. Correll, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “The criteria they’re using might be undefined or unclear. It might be that they have criteria, but they don’t have a good way of measuring them. So they draw on cultural ideas about how different kinds of people are.”

Although societal stereotypes persist in the workplace, some evaluation formats are able to bypass managers’ gender biases. Tying evaluations to performance, ensuring that the process is transparent, and holding managers accountable for reviews can reduce the likelihood of gender stereotypes influencing the process, the researchers say. It’s also important to make sure managers have clear criteria for evaluating employees and that those criteria are applied consistently across all employees.

The full study, “Inside the Black Box of Organizational Life: The Gendered Language of Performance Assessment,” was published in the American Sociological Review. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


RSSComments (0)

Leave a Reply