A new study finds women are less likely than men to receive honest feedback at work, hindering gender equality in the workplace.
Published this month in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the findings reveal women at work are more often told white lies during performance reviews than their male colleagues.
Research was conducted by Lily Jampol, a diversity, equity and inclusion strategist at Oakland, California consulting firm ReadySet, and Vivian Zayas, associate professor of psychology at Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences, per the Cornell Chronicle.
“There’s a general norm to be kinder to women, and so it just could be we’re used to being kinder to women,” Zayas told CNN. “This happens all throughout an individual’s development — girls are treated more softly. It might seem kinder, but if you’re not getting valuable feedback, it could actually be detrimental.”
One study examined hypothetical feedback from a manager to an underperforming employee. Most participants — 93 percent — believed the more honest but harsh feedback was given to a male employee, while two-thirds thought the dishonest, sugarcoated feedback was given to a woman.
A second study had participants give feedback directly to hypothetical students who had just written poor essays. Participants graded the essays without knowing the gender of the student, and then were told they would share their feedback directly with the students: a male student named Andrew and a female student named Sarah.
While Andrew was given constructive feedback and his grade remained consistent with what participants had originally given the essay, study participants increased Sarah’s scores to give her a better grade and altered their feedback to make it far more positive, per the Cornell Chronicle.
Without honest feedback, women have fewer opportunities for growth, study authors point out. Most times, employees are aware they’re underperforming, Zayas told CNN.
“But then if the manager says, ‘You’re doing great,’ it might come off as condescending. And that might further undermine her confidence,” Zayas told CNN.
Previous research has found women tend to receive more vague performance reviews than men, and these could mean a lower chance of future promotions.
Zayas told CNN managers should offer specific feedback and provide examples, and make sure workers know constructive feedback is shared with confidence in their ability to improve.