I recently read an article published in the Harvard Business Review, Women Get “Nicer” Feedback — and It Holds Them Back. This article touches on a topic that led to why I became a leadership coach. The first woman I coached had experienced this precise conundrum. For 26 years, she had only received ‘nicely packaged’ feedback so she had no clue that her colleagues didn’t enjoy working with her. Finally, when her career was at risk, they brought me in to provide the straight talk — feedback which sent her reeling and left her completely undone. “Why hasn’t anyone ever told me this before?!” I was asking the same question.
Constructive feedback is essential for anyone’s growth. Many managers resist providing a truly balanced review because they are uncomfortable sharing the “tough” feedback. As the research shows, they are often more uncomfortable sharing this with their female employees and, instead, they provide watered down, gentler messages to avoid hurting their female team member’s feelings. Why is there a belief that men can handle the straight talk more than women?
A common stereotype that women are warmer than men makes people more inclined to be kinder and more sympathetic toward women. It’s a gender bias that most of us are unaware exists. The kindness bias exists because many tend to view women as being warmer, more caring and more sensitive than their male counterparts. Contrary to commonly held views, it’s not driven by:
- A belief that women are less competent than men
- Concern about a male boss appearing prejudiced toward women, or
- A fear that women are less able to handle negative feedback
It’s actually driven by the inclination to be kinder to someone who has a gentler, warmer manner.
Of course, kindness isn’t a bad thing — but providing feedback differently based on gender differences creates problems for everyone. Women are more likely to receive inflated feedback and less likely to receive actionable feedback than men. Watered down feedback (even when motivated by the desire to be kind) can end up obscuring critical growth opportunities and prevent women from receiving important job assignments, raises or promotions.”
The story I described above brings this reality to light.
With that client, the 360 feedback I obtained revealed that most of her colleagues had been just tolerating her for many years because, outside of work, she is a very nice person. In her work ‘persona’, she often became pushy and stubborn and regularly focused only on her own goals instead of truly collaborating. The consequence of this was that her colleagues often tried to avoid her when she reached out to them and they would limit time spent with her. No surprise — it slowed down her ongoing progress.
When her behaviors became intolerable and threatened her job security, I was hired to build her self-awareness and help her develop a new approach.
20 years later, Karen is still working at the same organization. Whenever we reconnect, she comments on how her life changed once she understood how others perceived her. Her new relationship 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.
Tammy Jersey -Amplifier for Women Leaders
Amplifier for Women Leaders - President TKJ Leadership - Tammy Jersey
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