COMPANY CULTURE / SEP. 09, 2014
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Are Women In Tech Really Abrasive?

There’s a belief in HR circles that for women to succeed in the workplace, they need to exhibit somewhat masculine behaviours and traits.  It’s known as the Queen bee syndrome.  Of course, the flipside of this is that it tends to reinforce the negative stereotype of other women, and thus hamper their own career progress.

This syndrome often emerges in environments that are traditionally male-dominated.  You probably can’t get much more male than the tech world, so do women working in this industry have to be Queen bees?

A recent study by Kieran Snyder set out to find out.  She asked a pool of both men and women currently working in the tech industry to share their performance reviews with her.  None of the participants were informed about the purpose of the study.

"The question I wanted to answer was: Did review tone or content differ based on the employee’s gender," Snyder explains.

Sadly, gender matters (a lot)

Just over 140 reviews were collected from men in the tech industry, with a further 107 collected from women.  The reviews themselves were almost predominantly positive in nature (I mean that’s why people were willing to share them, right?), but it emerged that the women in the group were much more likely to receive critical feedback than their male colleagues.

"When breaking the reviews down by gender of the person evaluated, 58.9% of the reviews received by men contained critical feedback," Snyder states. "87.9% of the reviews received by women did."

That’s a heck of a difference.  Snyder decided to delve further into this to explore the kind of criticism managers were offering up through the reviews, and it’s at this point that things get particularly interesting.

Are women really too pushy?

When criticism was aimed at men, it was largely to do with things such as additional skills development (constructive criticism in other words).  The women would get that too, but they also got rather a lot of feedback about their style.  They were frequently told they were too abrasive and pushy, that they were hogging the limelight, and so on.  It was the kind of criticism that was almost never given to the men.

"This kind of negative personality criticism—watch your tone! step back! stop being so judgmental!—shows up twice in the 83 critical reviews received by men. It shows up in 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women."

All of which is pretty remarkable.  I’m sure if you spoke to any of the managers in these scenarios, they would be horrified to be regarded as sexist, and yet there appear to be quite clear gender biases at play in the way they reviewed staff.

The study itself involved an environment where the performance reviews were the sole preserve of the employees’ boss.  I wonder if similar findings would emerge if we looked at social performance reviews, whereby all employees are encouraged to review those they work with.

That would certainly be a study I’d like to see.  Have any female readers received similar criticism in their performance reviews?  Let us know in the comments section below.

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