Stay ahead in a rapidly changing world.

The Real Cost of a Negative Performance Review

by | Dec 1, 2021 | Diversity, Inclusion, Leadership

Most people dislike the nerve-wracking process of writing a self-evaluation of their performance. Because they feel trapped between not sounding too arrogant or too humble. Nevertheless, organizations insist on the value of self-evaluations. What some of us may not know is that feeling “too humble” in a culture that overvalues individual success and fails to mitigate biases has a real cost.

Anchor bias- in managerial judgment

A recent study conducted by Iris Bohnet of a global financial firm examining the performance review practices found that bias infiltrates two parts of the process, the self-evaluation and the manager’s assessment of the employee’s performance. The financial services firm that provided the data, like many others, utilized an assessment system in which management looked at workers’ self-evaluations before selecting what grades to give them (Bohnet, 2020.) Inevitably, managers use the information as a reference point becoming an anchor on the opinion of the employee about their performance and adding only a few points up to the employee’s rating. In this way engaging in anchor bias, which is our tendency to rely heavily on a piece of information.

In the study, women of color, and black males gave themselves much lower performance scores than white male employees. These scores biased the manager to provide a low score to the employee. Interestingly, male managers self-corrected their evaluations and provided better scores for white women only. In this way, women of color ended up experiencing racial and gender discrimination at the same time. Disentangling the biases imposed by managers from the racial and gender discrepancies in self-evaluations should be of interest to every human resource manager designing appraisal systems. So, where do you start?

First, acknowledging that progress toward gender equality has been sluggish because we are dealing with the fact that “almost ninety percent of men and women globally are biased against women, ” and many managers struggle to notice gender inequities in the workplace regularly.

Bias language permeates the performance review process

In a 2014 study, Kieran Snyder gathered performance reports from both women and men in the software industry and uncovered a discrepancy in the type of feedback women versus men receive. When she looked into it further, she discovered that women were more likely than men to receive critical feedback based on personality attributes that did not fit stereotypical norms for women. Men who display assertiveness were perceived as confident, while women showing the same behavior were considered abrasive. The phrases; abrasive, oppressive, aggressive, shrill, passionate, and illogical were frequently used in harsh assessments of female employees. Only the term “aggressive” was occasionally used for men among these words.

As you read this, consider auditing your performance reviews and look for biased language to see if there is a consistent pattern that needs to be addressed.

Gender Policing

A study discovered that women in male-dominated professions couldn’t just “act like men” to advance since doing so causes a backlash. While displaying expertise and confidence is beneficial to female workers, openly participating in confrontations or chasing positions of authority causes superiors to react negatively. These actions can lead to criticism to get women to conform to gender norms, a practice known as “gender policing.”

On the other hand, women have a better chance of obtaining top ratings when they indirectly pursue a promotion by having someone higher up in the firm advocate on their behalf. To take advantage of such an opportunity, women must find sponsors.

The pay gap and low rate of promotion for females

Further, the researchers have discovered, for example, that managers’ views about leaders needing to be agentic, independent, and less communal negatively influence the opportunities women are offered. It’s true that women tend to collaborate more, but this should not disqualify them from leadership opportunities. As a result of these misconceptions, women, and men are placed on separate career trajectories, with men being more often selected for leadership posts. Think about the leaders in your organization, is there a culture that supports women leaders that do not display agentic traits?

In the U.S. women were paid 16 percent less per hour than males on average in 2019 — before the epidemic hampered data collection. Because women are significantly more likely to work part-time, the difference in average annual earnings was even bigger, at 37%. In the United States, “Black women are paid 63 percent less than what non-Hispanic white men are paid.” To tackle the gender pay gap, examine the trajectory of women with consistent performance reviews that exceeds expectations but have failed to be promoted to uncover managerial bias and remediate the inequities.

Gender discrimination is evident in the low-performance ratings women receive compared to men. Addressing this discrepancy is important because performance evaluation ratings influence an individual’s career trajectory and economic advancement.

Strategies to reduce gender discrimination in performance reviews

If done correctly, diversity training can help raise awareness of implicit biases. The tough thing with implicit bias is that most people believe they aren’t likely to discriminate against other employees. The training should include clear examples of non-bias language and objective performance feedback.

 Raising awareness alone will not solve the problem, you must change the review process and perhaps get rid of the self-evaluation aspect that leads to gender discrimination. Then, monitor progress using regular pay audits with Syndio. Finally, implement an anonymous feedback system for women to easily report discrimination.   

Work Cited:

The State of Black Women in Corporate America. (2020). Lean In.

Correll, S. J., Weisshaar, K. R., Wynn, A. T., & Wehner, J. D. (2021, November 17). The Language of Gender Bias in Performance Reviews. Stanford Graduate School of Business.

One Way to Reduce Gender Bias in Performance Reviews. (2019, April 17). Harvard Business Review.

How Gender Bias Corrupts Performance Reviews, and What to Do About It. (2018, November 19). Harvard Business Review.

  1. (2019, July 4). How performance reviews are reinforcing gender bias: 5 steps to fight against it. Impraise.

Bohnet, I. (2020, September 20). The Role of Gender and Race in Performance Appraisals. Women and Public Policy Program, Harvard Kennedy School.




You May Also Like…


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *