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5 Oct 2015

Words That Show Likely Gender Bias in Workplace Feedback

Expectations matter. They frame how people see things. This includes gender. Expectations are a source of gender bias in workplace feedback. Their effect shows up in the words used to describe the work men and women do.

The words perform and collaborative help us see the gender bias in workplace feedback.

The words people use to give feedback depend on whether a man or a woman did the work.

Male and Female Words

Feedback is framed by people’s expectations of how a man and a woman should work. It is not framed by how people should work.

That means that when people give feedback about men’s work, they will tend to use certain words. The same is true with feedback about women’s work. It does not matter whether a man or woman is giving that feedback.

These words center on “perform” for men and “collaborate” for women. That means words related to performance are more likely to be used to describe men’s work. Those related to collaboration will likely describe women’s work. Here are some examples:

Perform (Men) Collaborate (Women)
Initiate Helpful
Innovate Support
Drive Team Player
Transform Train
Tackle Communicate


Individual Performances versus Collaborative Efforts

In short, research on gender bias in workplace feedback shows people tend to focus on the individual performances of men and the collaborative efforts of women. Women’s work is put in context of the team. “She helped the team very much.” Men’s work is about them. “He initiated the project and drove its success.”

This affects how people see skills. They focus on men’s technical skills. They focus on women’s communication skills. Biases for one gender can easily be two to three times over the other.

Gender Bias in Workplace Expectations

Expectations are mental anchors in people’s minds. When we behave outside of them, we are pulling up their anchor. This disrupts their thoughts.

For instance, women are 250% more likely than men to receive feedback about an aggressive communication style. It is because it does not fit what people expect of women. It does fit for men though. A light always shines brighter when our eyes do not expect it.

What To Do

Gender bias in workplace feedback happens without people knowing it. This does not mean they cannot deal with them. The key is awareness. That is a big step in attacking any unconscious influence. Awareness allows people to make adjustments.

These adjustments will help people avoid giving feedback about men’s and women’s work. They will give it about people’s work.

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