Women are told more lies than men in workplace reviews, new research suggests. And that can prevent gender equality.

Posted Monday, 25 May 2020 ‐ CNN

(CNN)Turns out, gender bias in the workplace is just as detrimental as you may think.New research, published last week in the "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin," suggests that women are lied to more than men in professional settings. Those lies could be preventing workplace advancement and, in a broader sense, gender equality, according to the findings by Cornell University's Lily Jampol, who has a PhD in social psychology, and Vivian Zayas, an associate professor of psychology."There's a general norm to be kinder to women, and so it just could be we're used to being kinder to women," Zayas told CNN of their paper, titled "Gendered White Lies: Women Are Given Inflated Performance Feedback Compared With Men.""This happens all throughout an individual's development -- girls are treated more softly," she added. "It might seem kinder, but if you're not getting valuable feedback, it could actually be detrimental."What happens when a manager sugarcoats feedbackTheir research consists of two studies.In Study 1, participants read assessments from a hypothetical manager to a severely under-performing employee. There were six options: one was the (negative) truth, and from there it went up -- to being less honest but more positive. Option six was feedback like, "You're doing great," which wasn't true.When participants in Study 1 were asked what the gender of the employee was, making inferences based on the manager's assessment, 93% of participants though the employee was a man when the assessment was the most truthful, but also the harshest. Six percent thought the employee was a woman.But when the assessment was an extreme lie -- the "you're doing great" -- 67% thought the employee was a woman, and only 33% thought it was man."They think, when a manager completely just sugarcoats it to the point where it's inaccurate, they're more likely to think it's a woman," Zayas explained to CNN. Meanwhile, in Study 2, participants gave feedback on an essay to a male or female writer directly. Here is where the research gets especially interesting. In Study 2, hypothetical students had five minutes to write an essay, and participants were told these students needed feedback and that they were planning on submitting them to a contest.The essays, Zayas said, weren't very good at all -- on a scale of 1 to 100, she gave them a 50. So participants got two studies, marked SB or AM, and gave feedback. Then, they were asked to give feedback directly to the student, at which point they realized SB was Sarah, a female, and AM was Andrew, a male.When it came to giving Andrew direct feedback, the advice given was more constructive. And the grade he received was relatively consistent with what the participants had originally given him.But with Sarah, everything changed. Participants increased their scores by almost a full letter grade, and were much more positive in their writing and feedback.In other words? Sarah was lied to.Why accurate feedback is so importantThe reason this is so dangerous, Zayas said, is that these women are never actually given accurate feedback, so there's little opportunity to learn or grow.And it's not just men that gave these inflated reviews. Female particpants did, too.Feedback is important to learn, Zayas said. If anyone is dome something that's incorrect, or even just inefficient, they're not going to know that. And they won't have an opportunity to change or improve.And this has real world damages. If a manager, for example, thinks an employee isn't performing well, but always sugar coats that fact while giving feedback, or straight up lies about it, that employee can never improve. That means, when it comes time for promotions or bonuses, that woman will miss out."I think it can create a lot of insecurity," Zayas said. "To get these mixed messages is harmful."And most employees know if they're underperforming, Zayas continued. "But then if the manager says, 'You're doing great,' it might come off as condescending," she said. "And that might further undermine her confidence."Even when these white lies are told with the best of intentions, the woman still loses.Where do we go from here?It's a tricky behavior to change, Zayas said. Most people don't actually think they're engaging in any kind of gender bias, their studies showed."If people aren't aware that they're engaging in these behaviors, it's hard to change it," she said.So what's a well-meaning manager to do?Zayas suggested being specific and giving examples when offering feedback. Making people aware of the significance of constructive feedback is important, too. It shows how withholding this type of feedback, as is done to many women, can be so harmful, Zayas said. But it can be hard. No one wants to come across as hurtful. Zayas recommended managers convey to the person the reason for the feedback.It's also important to convey that the feedback is coming out of a place of confidence in the employee, Zayas said. It's not just criticism -- you're showing you have faith in the other person to do better.Both Zayas and fellow author Jampol realize that gender is not binary, and suggest that further studies taking an intersectional lens are needed before claiming any effect on women.Yet simply being a woman seems to impede access to fair and accurate feedback, they said. And without that access, barriers toward gender equality could remain.

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