When women see a real possibility for change, they find the courage to seize the opportunity and are more likely to speak up, demanding — and often obtaining — fairer treatment and equal opportunities. This was shown in a perception poll recently released by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation.
However, in the workplace, the path for change isn’t always evident. A new study from two Stanford researchers ran a gendered comparison of written performance reviews and found that in evaluations men are given granular detail and “actionable” advice, whereas feedback to women was blanketed in stereotypes and uselessly vague. According to the study, positive feedback for women often takes the form of platitudes such as, “You had a great year.”
Without clear, actionable advice, women aren’t able to see a clear possibility for change or a way to reach the next level in the workplace, which can be very frustrating. The researchers—Shelley Correll and Caroline Simard—wrote in the Harvard Business Review that they have come to see performance evaluations as both a symptom and a cause of women’s underrepresentation into leadership roles. They classify it as a symptom because the hazy evaluations of women’s work may reflect an unconscious bias that women are indistinguishable team members rather than leaders with measurable accomplishments. And it’s a cause because indistinct feedback makes it harder for women to improve where they’re weakest or to get promoted for the strong work they’ve done.
To close the gap and move closer to pay equality we need to get more women into leadership positions. That means we must provide a clear way forward. Doing so is in everyone’s best interests, because research shows that companies with more diverse workforces have better financial returns. Correll and Simard urge employers to establish the criteria of their reviews in advance, and to apply them equally by striving “to write reviews of similar lengths for all employees” for example. The performance evaluation is no one’s favorite process, but it’s necessary to provide an important record of who did what.
Following established criteria and clearly identifying key issues and potential for growth will lead women to invest more fully in the workplace, not to mention the fact that providing specific feedback can help us close the gap and create a path forward for all women. After all, women are hardwired to connect, and as they move forward they will share ideas and combine resources with one another, and in the process, change the workplace and the world.
When women and men are given the same opportunities it’s a win-win for all involved. Workplace equality is possible, and it is time to join hands with our sisters and unite our voices, our actions, and our strength. That’s how change happens, and how together we can advance in the workplace and achieve full equality.