Organizations like to describe women as “abrasive”

More evidence that performance reviews are a bit of a train wreck: the context around them is very different dependent on what gender you are. If you’re a woman, they’re likely to be more negative — if you’re a man? Less so. Here’s a chart, courtesy of Fast Company:

Gender Bias In Performance Reviews


Stunning stat No. 1: 58.9 percent of reviews of men contained critical feedback; for women, that number was 87.9%.

Stunning stat No. 2: “abrasive” was used 17 times to describe 13 different women. The word never showed up in a single male review. In the same vein, 71 of the 94 reviews received by women had some type of character critique; none of the men’s reviews did.

There are a couple of ways to look at this:

  • Maybe it really is time to blow up the whole idea of the performance review.
  • If you think for a second that it’s harder to be a man than a woman, you’re utterly misguided.
  • This is kind of the professional equivalent of the “slut” vs. “player” dynamic, right?
  • Even though women have been successful in the work force for decades, we still try to view them differently.
  • No one really has any idea what’s going on at all as relates to work.

I personally think it might be that final bullet point — no one really seems to understand how best to evaluate people, especially outside their comfort zone (as you can see above, more of the reviews — in terms of sheer numbers and individuals — came from men). This all rolls up with stats about bad managers (also stunning), and makes me wonder this: out of all the things holding back business from being effective (meetings, structure, the busy trap, etc.), is the single-biggest one really just a complete lack of desire to learn and empathize with others around you, regardless of their gender, role, and context? Sometimes it does feel that way.


Ted Bauer