Performance reviews are essential to employee development, and when executed well, they positively impact individual performance and overall talent goals. However, research shows that bias disproportionately affects the performance evaluations of women, Black, and Latino talent. In an article I wrote for Talent Development magazine, I discuss common biases that impact performance evaluations and ways to mitigate them.
Textio, a linguistics software company, found significant demographic bias in their research of over 25,000 performance reviews written for employees. Fortune magazine refers to the analysis: "...some stark facts emerge: different groups of people do get different kinds of feedback at work—with women, Black people, Latinx people, and older workers receiving the lowest-quality feedback. These findings cut across organizations, meaning that the patterns are not specific to just one entity or its feedback culture."
A few of the specific findings:
- Women receive 22% more feedback than men about their personality vs. their performance
- Black men get 1/3 less feedback than White women on average, as measured by word count — the least input of all groups
- Black women receive nearly 9x as much non-actionable feedback as white men under 40
Other marginalized groups face workplace bias, as well. A series of recent studies from Yale showed that when hiring managers listened to recorded introductions of candidates of different social classes, they judged people from a higher social class as more competent and a better fit for the role. This type of bias can impact performance evaluation and hinder social mobility.
You might ask why this all matters. It matters because people with access to constructive feedback progress faster in their careers, earn more, and have more leadership opportunities.
There is no one-off solution as reasons behind bias at the workplace lie in a complex interplay of interpersonal, individual, organizational and societal attitudes. However, more equitable actions start with accepting that we all have inherent biases. On a personal level, we each must determine which biases we hold and then intentionally set them aside when writing performance reviews. I include organizational strategies to mitigate bias in the article. While it's available at no cost to ATD members, you can find a free checklist to combat performance review bias here from the Center for WorkLife Law.