NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Women who tend to exhibit traits more associated with men--such as assertiveness--tend to do better in work evaluations in more male-dominated career fields. But a new study conducted by Fortune indicates further penalties against how women are evaluated: work reviews tend to be much more critical of women than men.
For the study, linguist and technology Kieran Snyder collected work evaluations from both men and women in in the technology field. In particular, Snyder collected 248 reviews from 180 people, including 105 men and 75 women (141 reviews submitted from the men and 107 reviews from the women). The reviews were at 28 different companies that ranged from large technology corporations to small offices.
Snyder found that while the reviews collected were overall strong for both the male and female workers, there tended to be much more critical feedback for female workers. Altogether, 71% of the reviews contained critical feedback. However, of that figure, nearly 90% (87.9%) of those critical reviews were for women workers and only 58.9% were for the men.
Not only were women more likely to be on the receiving end of critical feedback than their male counterparts, they were also more likely to be criticized for personality traits and more negative adjectives were used in their feedback. For instances, the word “abrasive” showed up 17 times in the reviews to describe to 13 different women, while the word did not show up in even one review of a male worker. Instead, only the word “aggressive” is used to describe three of the male workers--and in two of those reviews it is actually used as a compliment with the suggestion to demonstrate the trait more.
And “abrasive” is just one of several negative adjectives Snyder comes across in her study.
“Words like bossy, abrasive, strident…are used to describe women’s behaviors when they lead; words like emotional and irrational describe their behaviors when they object,” wrote Snyder in Fortune.
Additionally, Snyder notes that it is often suggested that these women work harder to refrain from exhibiting these traits, and in general, to be quiet.
“Men are given constructive suggestions," write Snyder. "Women are given constructive suggestions – and told to pipe down.”
Snyder mentions that comments like “Watch your tone!” “Step back!” and “Stop being so judgmental!” only show up twice in the 83 critical reviews received by men, while they show up in 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women.
“The study speaks to the impossible tightrope women must walk to do their jobs competently and to make tough decisions while simultaneously coming across as nice to everyone, all the time,” writes work coach Tara Mohr in a recent op-ed in the New York Times. “But the findings also point to something else: if a woman wants to do substantive work of any kind, she’s going to be criticized — with comments not just about her work but also about herself.”
The results of this study come as no surprise to Brandy Barton, a 40-year-old who has worked as a computer engineer for Microsoft and has experiences her fair share of double standard treatment.
“I was once told [during a performance review] that being good at a hard project was because it came easy to me, whereas a male counterpart received the word 'hero' on that same project,” says Barton.
Snyder did not find any trend or notable variation in these evaluations by company size or other factor. Even more interesting, she also found these results were relatively consistent in terms of the feedback it offered women workers, regardless of the gender of the person conducting the evaluation. Specifically, 62 of the 248 reviews Snyder collected were written by women, including 26 reviews of women and 36 reviews of men. Overall, female managers comprised nearly a quarter (just over 23%) of the negative critical feedback written in the reviews Snyder surveyed--almost the equivalent of how many evaluations they conducted.
The only significant difference Snyder found in female evaluators is that they usually wrote reviews that were an average of 50% longer than those written by men.
“There’s a common perception that women in technology endure personality feedback that their male peers just don’t receive,” writes Snyder. “As a woman in tech who has been called all of these things before, there is some validation in confirming with data that the pattern is real. But as a leader in tech, I’m aghast at how closely under our noses we let this live.”
--Written by Laura Kiesel for MainStreet