How To Navigate Gender, Emotions, And Unconscious Bias During A Performance Review
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Welcome to my weekly Q&A roundup. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)
If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions—tough questions, brave questions, you name it.
The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. So each week, I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.
The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusivity.
• Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.
• Inclusivity: bringing others along in the journey.
What Being “Too Emotional” Really Means in A Performance Review
In my Q3 performance review, I lost points in the EQ section because, as my boss said, I have “a tendency to respond too emotionally in certain situations.” Knowing his comment could be a form of bias against women, I calmly asked for examples of being too emotional. He gave one example. It was from last year when my son broke his arm at karate and I left work early to take him to the emergency room. I think this example is unfair (it was a year ago and I was worried about my son), so last week I went to HR and filed a complaint. Now I’m second-guessing my decision and nervous I blew my chances at receiving an EOY pay raise. What can I do to rectify this situation?
It’s unfortunate to hear about your experience in the workplace. Without being privy to all the details, the data (see below) leads me to believe your Q3 performance review indeed contained sizable traces of unconscious bias.
And that’s not on you to rectify. Asking the subjects of an inequitable system to fix it is itself a form of inequity.
The fact that by seeking to remedy a biased performance review you have put you and your household’s economic security on the line (via retaliation: demotion, pay inequity, career stagnation, etc) only adds insult to injury.
KEY POINT #1:
In a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace, you shouldn’t have to correct other people’s unconscious biases. You shouldn’t have to second-guess your decision to go to HR. You shouldn’t have to go to HR in the first place. You shouldn’t be penalized for leaving work to take a loved one to the hospital.
However, and as your experience exemplifies, our workplaces are far from being diverse, equitable, and inclusive. We still have a long way to go—at least 257 years—until we achieve intersectional gender equity at work.
KEY POINT #2:
Whether we realize it or not, whether we want to or not, and whether we overtly support DEI or not, rigid gender expectations continue to dictate workplace culture. (Despite the more than $8 billion corporations spend on diversity training each year.)
If that sounds too soft, take a look at the hard empirical evidence*:
Women receive lower ratings than men for similar performance 4% of the time.
Women are judged as “lacking emotional control” when expressing traditionally-feminine emotions but penalized for showing too much dominance when expressing traditionally-masculine emotions.
Women who express anger in a professional setting are conferred lower status than men who express anger in a professional setting.
Whereas colleagues attribute men’s anger in the workplace to external factors (i.e. the air conditioner broke and it’s hot), they attribute women’s anger to identity-based factors (i.e. she’s an emotionally unstable person).
To be certain, rigid gender expectations harm men too. Six in ten people aged 15 to 24 (i.e. our rising labor force) believe traditional definitions of masculinity prevent men from expressing their emotions in healthy ways.
Instead of changing who we are and how we show up in the world, we need to change the broken system that values certain people over others. But how?
KEY POINT #3:
Companies and people leaders should—if they aren’t already—start using advanced technologies to root out unconscious biases from performance reviews, pay decisions, hiring choices, potential evaluations, and promotion opportunities.
“Data-driven decision making powered by AI” is one of the five imperatives for the future of HR. Companies that fail to take action on this front are failing their people and risk getting left behind.
*If you want to explore the data on gender, emotion, and unconscious bias further, I recommend this research study from The Leadership Quarterly.
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