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Avoid Gender Bias in Performance Reviews

Performance reviews. Everyone has a different opinion about them, with some arguing that they are some of the only times critical feedback and goal setting can be established by management, while others believe the performance review process is time-consuming, anxiety-inducing, and unhelpful. However you slice it, quantitative performance ratings are extremely commonplace. Ideally, managers deliver feedback fairly, giving constructive feedback, and promote a positive evaluation process that helps team members succeed. Unfortunately, there are some situations where performance reviews are subject to unconscious biases that have little to do with an employees skill or performance. This is especially true for female employees, who — beyond already facing a pronounced gender disparity in major fields of industry — are significantly more likely to receive harsher feedback than their male counterparts. Eliminating gender discrimination means rethinking the evaluation process such that male and female employees are evaluated on the basis of their performance, not their gender. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the pervasive issue of gender biases in performance evaluations, their impact, and outline actionable steps to rectify them. By fostering a fair and inclusive performance review process, you can empower all employees to thrive and contribute to their fullest potential.

What are unconscious biases?

Unconscious biases, also sometimes referred to as subconscious biases or implicit biases, are ideas or beliefs that subconsciously influence our behaviors, attitudes, and perceptions towards a particular group of people. They are formed as a result of social and cultural attitudes, as well as personal experiences; they operate outside of our intentional control. It is important to emphasize that unconscious bias is not the result of intentional prejudice or discrimination, but rather, is due to the brain’s natural tendency to reduce complex information down to its most simple forms. Thus, our cognition is tailored to simplify ideas about others into mental shortcuts, but this forms unintentional biases that have less to do with the individual we are speaking with, and more to do with our preconceived stereotypes.

How does unconscious bias lead to gender bias in performance reviews?

Gathering performance data on all employees often means evaluating team members on — obviously — their performance, but many times managers tend to evaluate their employees on numerous leadership traits that they may display. For instance, their ability to work well with others, assert themselves, lead projects, etc. Gender bias in performance reviews surface when male and female employees are appraised differently despite demonstrating the same behavior. For example, assertiveness in male employees is often evaluated positively as the employee being confident and diligent, while that same assertiveness in female employees is usually given negative feedback, such as being seen as abrasive or pushy. This is especially true in male dominated fields, where gender bias in favor of male managers and employees is even sharper. Performance reviews should really only focus on the things that matter, which is identifying extraordinary performance and offering suggestions for improvement. However, female employees are often the recipients of feedback that has less to do with their technical expertise, and more to do with their interpersonal style. Moreover, female employees are far more likely to be evaluated based on what they have already done, as opposed to male colleagues who tend to be evaluated based on what they can do, according to the recent McKinsey report on gender disparity between men and women, Women Matter. This trend of unequally harsh evaluation that disproportionately impacts women often results in female colleagues being held back from promotions, salary increases, and opportunities for professional development.

How can we overcome gender bias in performance reviews?

The process by which we address gender bias in performance reviews is multifaceted and involves changing long-held perspectives that have shaped many teams in the corporate world. However, gender discrimination harms everyone, and employees deserve an equal opportunity to improve by receiving objective feedback.

Standardized Evaluation Criteria

Establish clear, objective criteria for performance evaluations and the resulting comments. Positive feedback should center around the employee’s contributions thus far, as well as weighing their potential for progression. Subjective feedback should be minimized. Actionable feedback should be emphasized. Ensure that these standards are communicated to all employees to create a level playing field, where no one if given an edge in the process for demonstrating qualities outside of the scope of the evaluation.

Training and Education

Diversity training can be a useful tool to help bridge gender gaps in evaluation, and it requires that everyone, including leadership, to participate. Provide training to both managers and employees on recognizing and mitigating unconscious biases.

Anonymous Evaluations or Blind Reviews

Another way to minimize gender bias is to implement anonymous evaluations or blind reviews to remove identifying information, such as gender, from the assessment process. This helps focus on performance rather than personal attributes.

Diverse Evaluation Panels

Diversity in leadership promotes a diverse workforce. Ensure that managers delivering evaluations are diverse in terms of gender and other dimensions of diversity. Leadership positions that consist of just male managers can impact female employees working under their supervision by implicitly communicating that leadership is a male-only space. Identify managers that champion diversity and inclusion. This can provide different perspectives and help counteract potential biases.

Regular Check-Ins and Feedback

Encourage frequent, open communication between managers and employees, and communicate that it is always okay to seek feedback outside of a formal review. This can help address any possible unintentional biases early and provide opportunities for course correction.

 Track and Analyze Data

Monitor performance evaluations for trends related to gender, such as if men and women are consistently receiving opposite feedback despite being in similar positions or performing the same work. Analyzing data can help identify areas where biases may be prevalent and inform targeted interventions, such as areas where one gender is given significantly higher ratings, while another is consistently being given lower ones.


Annual performance reviews can be useful evaluation tools for improving worker performance, but if the process is laden with gender biases that block women’s professional advancement, these tools need to be reappraised. By acknowledging and actively addressing gender biases in performance reviews, organizations can create an environment where every employee is recognized and rewarded based on their merit and contributions

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