Therese Huston polled the audience to find that 50% of us were managers and 50% were independent contributors. She organized a technique which I last heard from my Organizational Behavior professor, Rhona Berengut, at the Schulich School of Business in York University. To ensure that you take action with a piece of information, use the What | So What? | Now What? technique.
Women, compared to men, receive vague feedback:
- You had a great year
- You’re an asset to the team
- Your ability to debug across the whole stack meant we shipped our key feature in July
Therese explained that 60% of men receive specific feedback, compared with 40% of women. This disparity intensifies when the feedback is negative. For example, the statement “You’re too aggressive” is given to
- 24% of men
- 76% of women!
Therese asked, “What is the one word that comes up most often as a negative quality in women’s performance reviews?” Some answers were:
The correct answer is abrasive. Therese humorously illustrated this with a slide of a dishwashing sponge (green side up).
One reason for vague feedback is protective hesitation. Many women report to male managers. Studies have shown that giving negative feedback to someone of a different race or gender can be especially uncomfortable. Managers state, “I don’t want them to take it the wrong way.” They fear being accused of racism or sexism. This hesitation results in men unconsciously helping men move up the corporate ladder (since specific feedback is easier to address and correct).
Companies are taking steps, such as creating requirements for performance reviews to be of equal length for both men and women.
One audience member said she would not even entertain the feedback that she was “too aggressive”. When she received this feedback in real life, her response to her male manager was , “That sounds like a gendered comment. Would you say that if I were a man?” Her manager realized her point and stated, “You’re right!” They went on to discuss specific examples and outline what she could do differently next time, in order to avoid being perceived as aggressive.