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Numeric Performance Reviews Can Be Biased Against Women

The ten-point scale favors men in some situations. But a simple change to the rating system can level the playing field

Source | | Lauren Rivera

On a scale of one to ten, how surprised would you be to learn that a common professional evaluation tool is biased against women? Given the many inequalities in the modern workplace—from pay disparity to freezing-cold conference rooms—some people might rate their disbelief at yet another inequity at a zero.

Numeric performance ratings of employees are “staples of the modern workplace,” says Kellogg’s Lauren Rivera. In some industries, such as consulting, it’s common for employees to be rated after every project they complete. And the stakes are high. How a worker measures up can influence short-term compensation decisions and long-term career trajectories.

Previous studies show that, in general, men have a leg up in performance evaluations and are consistently deemed more able, likeable, and worthy than women, even when their work is identical. But no one had examined whether numeric rating systems themselves—what Rivera calls “the architecture of evaluation”—might be contributing to the problem. So Rivera and coauthor András Tilcsik of the University of Toronto decided to explore the question.

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