Here are some real life situations my fellow bloggers and other women we know in the profession discussed recently at SAA:
- I bought up an ethical objection to a proposed new policy in a public meeting and was told “[name] you’re just being too emotional about this.”
- When I bring up an issue with a current practice at a staff meeting and offer alternatives I’m told “[name] you’re being too critical.” When a male colleague brings up a similar issue and offers alternatives no one responds to him in this manner. He’s thanked for bringing up the issue/being willing to work on the issue.
- Two female candidates interviewed for a position; one was better qualified but was very blunt. When the interviews concluded, she was critiqued by the (male) chair of the search committee for being “too aggressive.” The rest of the staff thought she was a breath of fresh air.
- Being told by a co-worker “You need to ‘play nice’ if you want to change things.” (aka wait until people like you more before doing anything.)
- In a small group meeting, I was conversing with my male colleague and told him to let me know when his part of the project was ready. I was promptly scolded in front of everyone for not saying “please” by an older female colleague.
While the examples above are verbal (and a small snapshot of experiences), Kieran Snyder released a study last week on how women and men are described in written performance reviews. The results aren’t pretty.
- 58.9% of reviews of men’s work included critical feedback compared to 87.9% of reviews of women’s work.
- Negative personality criticism shows up two times out of the 83 (2.4%) critical reviews for men. For women, it’s in 71 of 94 (95.9%) critical reviews. Essentially, “Men are given constructive suggestions. Women are given constructive suggestions — and told to pipe down.”
- Bossy, abrasive, strident, and aggressive describe women’s behavior when they lead. Emotional and irrational when women object. Each word showed up multiple times in women’s reviews, but only the word aggressive showed up three times in men’s reviews. In two of those instances, it was to encourage men to be more aggressive.
Snyder’s study found that the gender of the manager didn’t seem to make a difference in the reviews (besides that reviews by female managers were about 50% longer.) Yesterday Carrie posted about being an advocate for those you supervise. Let’s add to that list with the charge to think carefully about the words you use to describe your employees. Maybe give yourself more time in your schedule to write performance reviews. Write drafts and let them sit for awhile so you can come back with a fresh eye and ask yourself:
- Am I describing the person’s work or their perceived personality?
- If I am critiquing personality traits, how does that affect their performance?
- Am I providing negative comments when describing work well done?
- Am I providing constructive feedback so they know what areas need improvement?
- Is my feedback (positive or negative) providing concrete examples?
- Would I describe this person differently if they were a different gender? Could someone guess this person’s gender just by reading the review?
Beyond performance reviews, we all need to carefully think about the language we use to describe or react to (written or verbal) all of our employees and colleagues. The words we use matter and can make a huge difference in how someone feels about their work and value, not to mention the future of their professional lives.