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Feedback doesn’t work for men and women in the same way, here is how to fix that...

 

 

Feedback is part and parcel of working life. We give it, we receive it and mostly we hope that it is positive. Giving and receiving feedback is an art. Knowing how to respond or provide feedback is important because when done well feedback enables performance, engagement, sense of belonging and collaboration.

In short, knowing how to give feedback is a critical skill for surviving and thriving in workplaces today. But there is just one major problem... feedback is a gendered phenomenon specifically the type of feedback men provide to women can be different and less helpful. Understanding why and how feedback does not work for women is critical to ensuring women receive the same development support.

Leaders need to consider the content of their feedback and if this builds on the strengths women have or if it is simply more ‘women-fixing’ in disguise.

Yours,

We all desire to treat people based on their ‘human-ness’, not on their ‘femaleness’ or ‘male-ness’. However continuous research and data shows that the gender-biases in workplace feedback conversations and systems are alive and well. A Harvard Business Review study published this year entitled Research: Men Get More Actionable Feedback Than Women highlighted the differences of feedback received in four important areas, which include vision, political skills, asserting leadership and confidence. These differences can direct women along different, and less effective, leadership pathways than men, adding to the gender gap in leadership positions.

Here are some conversation starters to avoid perpetuating this culture
of fixing women when having conversations about performance:

Vision
“What is your personal vision for the organisation / team?” “How does it fit in with the bigger picture?” How can you involve others in developing this vision.”

Questions like these will help women not be pigeon-holed into managing operational details. They will be encouraged to think strategically about the organisation’s wider context.
 
POLITICAL SKILLS 
“How do you feel about workplace politics? What might be constructive ways of engaging in politics, in your role?” “Who are the key players in your work area/organisation and what are their agendas?” “Who do you need to form relationships with and whose support do you need to progress towards your leadership goals? How will you do that?”

Questions like these encourage women to carefully cultivate relationships, understand and navigate office politics, and build good leadership skills in influencing others, negotiating and networking.
 
ASSERTING LEADERSHIP
"What are your leadership aspirations?” “How will you pursue them? What and who might enable you?” “In a year’s time, what steps will you have taken to achieve that leadership role?” “How team-oriented and collegiate are you in various work contexts?” “In what ways could you develop these skills?”

Questions like these give women the open-space to share their explicit leadership aspirations and actively pursue development activities.
 
CONFIDENCE
“What skills do you feel confident about? How can you better leverage them in your role?” “What behaviours can you use to demonstrate your confidence to others?”

Questions like these aim to reframe ‘confidence’ by being more specific about individual skill-sets or expertise-areas. There is a difference between being more confident versus showing more confidence, and it is easy for managers to fall into the trap of giving vague advice. Providing details makes it easier for women to understand actionable ways to progress.
 

Giving and receiving feedback in the moment also requires consideration. If you are giving it, don’t forget to:

SET THE STAGE
...because the “why” matters. Colleagues need to understand that the feedback comes from a place of wanting what is best for them so they are receptive to it.

BE MORE SPECIFIC
…because vague feedback does not help anyone learn, grow, or become future leaders of the organisation.

FOCUS ON THE BEHAVIOUR, NOT THE PERSON
...because this keeps feedback objective. Using leadership or manager behaviour models can help frame conversations, and help your colleague understand “this is what it takes to be a manager or leader here.”

...and if you are receiving it, don’t forget:

TO CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF
...Are you in the right headspace to be able to receive feedback at that specific moment? If you sense you will not be able to truly hear what will be said, there is no harm in asking “can we do this tomorrow / later?”

THE CONTEXT
...If this is not given to you, do ask, “I would like to understand the context around this”, or “Would you be able to tell me a little bit about why you decided you wanted to share this with me?”

TO BE CURIOUS
Take the opportunity to process what you are hearing, and channel it to how it can help you grow and learn. It is easy to feel defensive, but remember it is also ok to ask questions to clarify points being made (for example, “Can you tell me more about that?”, “Would you share with me when someone has done that really well?”, “Are there specific examples you would recommend?”

YOUR PERMISSION SLIP - MANAGING MENTAL HEALTH AT WORK

HOW TO GIVE POSITIVE FEEDBACK SO YOUR TEAMS DON’T BURN OUT

She recommends that you ask yourself: as a leader striving for perfection, are
you too critical? Do you give feedback others perceive as harsh? You can’t skimp
on delivering challenging feedback. But with a focus on productivity in our
work-from-home setting, only delivering critical feedback has become the norm
for some organizations. Remember that positive feedback plays a part in the
learning process, too.

RESEARCH: MEN GET MORE ACTIONABLE FEEDBACK
THAN WOMEN

Although businesses now employ more female managers than ever before, women’s advancement into senior leadership roles remains much slower than for men. While there are a variety of structural causes driving gender inequity in the workplace, one important factor is the disparity in how men and women are given developmental feedback.

READ IN HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW

 

THE LANGUAGE OF GENDER BIAS IN PERFORMANCE REVIEWS

A take-charge attitude at work typically earns men positive performance reviews, but for women, assertiveness only gets them so far. Although workplace evaluations are supposed to be merit-based, gender bias too often influences how supervisors rate employees, resulting in women having to meet a higher bar than their male colleagues to advance professionally.

READ IN THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF STANFORD BUSINESS

 

HOW ONE COMPANY WORKED TO ROOT OUT BIAS FROM PERFORMANCE REVIEWS

About two years ago, a midsize U.S. law firm reached out to the Center for WorkLife Law to learn how bias was surfacing in their performance evaluations. The firm’s D&I director had spot-checked a sample of supervisor evaluations for bias and identified several red flags. They decided they wanted to go a step further and take a data-driven approach. (Music to our ears!)

READ IN THE HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW

Want to be a guest on The Fix podcast?

Do you have a story or tips to share on how you’re building a more gender-equal workplace? We want to hear from you!

SUBMIT YOUR IDEAS

 
Want to be a guest on The Fix podcast?
 
Do you have a story or tips to share on how you’re building a more gender equal workplace? We want to hear from you! Please submit your ideas here!
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