Women Get “Nicer” Feedback — and It Holds Them Back — Tammy Jersey

I recently read an article published in the Harvard Business Review, Women Get “Nicer” Feedback — and It Holds Them Back. The article posed an interesting stance on why women receive nicer feedback than men and why that may cause a hindrance.

Constructive feedback is essential for anyone’s growth. But as a manager, it can be challenging to strike a fair, consistent balance between being candid and considerate when giving that feedback to different team members. We found that even if male and female employees perform at exactly the same level, managers tend to prioritize kindness more when giving feedback to women than when giving the same feedback to men.

So what causes this disparity? There’s a common stereotype that women are warmer than men, and when we see someone as warm, we’re naturally inclined to be kinder and more sympathetic toward them. Our results show that this stereotype is what drives the kindness bias: We tend to view women as warmer, and that makes us want to be kinder when giving them critical feedback.

We found no evidence to suggest that managers are trying to hold women back. This bias was not driven by a belief that women were less competent than men, a worry about appearing prejudiced toward women, or a fear that women would be less able to handle negative feedback.

Of course, kindness isn’t a bad thing — but giving feedback differently based on the gender of the recipient creates problems for everyone. Women are more likely to receive inflated feedback, and less likely to receive actionable feedbackthan men are. Inaccurate, unhelpful, or unclear feedback (even when motivated by the desire to be kind) can end up obscuring critical growth opportunities and cause women to be less likely to get important job assignments, raises, or promotions.”

Here is a real-life story that brings the attached HBR article to light.

Years ago, when I was starting out as a leadership coach, a client brought me in to help one of their most senior women leaders change the way she interacts with others in the company. Let’s call her Karen. When we sat down to discuss the situation, Karen told me that she was totally confused by her leadership’s new request because she had never gotten a bad performance review in her 24 years at the company.

As I began the coaching process and spoke to many of her colleagues, I learned that they had been just tolerating her for many years because they know she is a very nice person. The challenge had been that Karen often became pushy and stubborn and was regularly focused only on her own goals when she needed to collaborate with others to get her work done. This often led to her colleagues trying to avoid her when she would reach out to them and it slowed down her ongoing progress.

Finally, when certain colleagues had “had enough”, Karen’s leadership team brought me on board to collaborate with her and guide her to develop a new approach.

15 years later, Karen is still working at the same organization. Whenever we reconnect, she will comment on how her life changed once she understood how others perceived her. The feedback and coaching strategies even helped her marriage because she changed some of the ways she interacted with her husband.

Leaders that provide sterilized feedback so they don’t hurt someone’s feelings are doing a great disservice to the individual and the company. The truth matters.

Here is the original article.


Tammy Jersey, CEO & Leadership Consultant at TKJ Leadership, specializes in helping women leaders enhance their gravitas and improve their impact. And she ensures that her coaches hear the truth so they can do the real work to reach their goals.



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!mpact Magazine is a platform where people with a vision can share their ideas and insights.