Bosses give underperforming female workers less truthful feedback

Bosses give underperforming female workers kinder but less truthful feedback than men, study reveals

  • Gender divide revealed in study by psychologists at Cornell University, New York
  • Found women were more likely to receive ‘white lies’ in feedback than men
  • This may be due to a desire to preserve relationships and avoid harming feelings 

Bosses give underperforming female employees more positive but less honest feedback than men.

The gender divide was revealed by psychologists at Cornell University, New York, who asked almost 66 volunteers, including 39 women, to mark essays before revealing the name of the author.

Participants were then asked to re-mark the work, by either ‘Sarah’ or ‘Andrew’, based on quality, writing criteria and willingness to recommend as exemplary.

The results, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found ‘Sarah’ had her grades inflated by nearly a full letter and received more positive feedback than her colleague.

In a separate experiment 182 participants were handed feedback and asked to guess whether the recipient was male or female. They said women were more likely to receive ‘white lies’

Gender divide was revealed in a study by psychologists at Cornell University, New York

‘Accurate feedback should be made available to anyone needing improvement, regardless of his or her social group,’ said authors Lily Jampol, PhD, and Vivian Zayas, associate professor of psychology at the university.

‘Here we have exposed one factor that may, to a certain degree, impede access – being a woman. 

‘Developmental performance feedback is a ubiquitous and important process in most workplaces and of many people’s working lives.’

In a separate experiment published in the same paper 185 participants, including 113 females, were handed two manager assessments of an employees poor performance and asked to guess the worker’s gender. 

The statements ranged from harsh but honest to kind but not very honest. 

‘Participants overwhelmingly guessed that an underperforming employee who had been told a white lie was a woman,’ said Jampol.

‘This finding suggests that participants believe that this is a likely occurrence in giving feedback.’ 

Pictured above is Cornell University’s campus. The psychologists said women may be told more white lies in order to preserve relationships and avoid harming others

Jampol, who also works as a diversity, equity and inclusion strategist at California-based consulting firm ReadySet, suggested the truth was watered-down in order to preserve relationships, avoid harming the other person and to present oneself positively.

She said that although this usually reflects benign intentions, in some contexts it may be problematic.

Previous research has also demonstrated a gender divide, with women being described more warmly and with more positive words than men. 

Studies have also suggested women receive less negative feedback than the opposite gender and are praised for their work while being allocated fewer resources.

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