Skip to main content

Small Ways Leaders Alienate Female Employees Through Gender-Biased Criticism

Small Ways Leaders Alienate Female Employees Through Gender-Biased Criticism

With so many studies confirming the advantages of female-friendly workplaces, it’s a wonder more companies don’t make a conscious effort to knock down gender barriers.

First, companies that employ more women are more profitable, have a broader diversity of ideas, and have lower failure rates. And companies that allow gender bias to seep through review and feedback practices face long-term hiring difficulties, productivity problems, and even potential lawsuits.

Unfortunately, it’s hard for even women to acknowledge when gender bias occurs, let alone a senior management team that isn’t looking for it or hasn’t experienced it. Most women are unaware of having personally been victims of gender discrimination, and they’ll deny it even when it’s objectively true and they see that women in general experience it.

[Related: The Frying Game: On Vocal Fry and Sexist Feedback]

Are you unwittingly alienating your employees with gender-biased practices? Here’s a look at how gender bias can slip into even the most gender-friendly workplace culture:

Women who are seen as “aggressive” receive more critical feedbackThere are two phrases used to describe high-performing women on their evaluations that men never see: “abrasive” and “too aggressive.” In the same study, 87.9 percent of women received critical feedback compared to 58.9 percent of men, creating an unfair review process that focuses on the faults of women in the workplace.

Women are evaluated differently than men. According to the same study, men receive criticism “heavily geared towards suggestions for additional skills to develop,” while women are told to quiet down and step back. Rather than affirm a woman’s position and support her professional growth, evaluations systematically question her qualifications and how frequently she contributes to workplace discussions.

Outspoken female employees are perceived as having less leadership potential. According to a Yale University study, women who talk a lot are negatively viewed by others, especially when they hold positions of power. “They’re seen as domineering and controlling,” the study states. They’re also seen as significantly less competent and less suitable for leadership positions than males who reported speaking the same amount. It’s interesting to note that both male and female participants in the study held this perception.

It’s easy to let these underlying perceptions and biases go unchecked. But there are a few steps you can take to proactively combat gender-biased criticism and pave the way to a healthier workplace environment for everyone:

1. Build awareness among your team. The first step toward leveling the review playing field is making your staff aware of the issues. Bring them together to talk about gender-biased issues and how everyone can fall into this trap. Encourage them to be vigilant about the words they use at work and how they perceive men and women.

2. Change the way your team perceives men and women. Rather than allow team members to blindly accept their own stereotypes, it’s up to executive management to challenge them to recognize and reverse their own gender biases. During training exercises, role-play different scenarios so they’ll understand how to avoid gender-biased comments in real situations.

3. Invest in customized education and training. Specific training can equip your team to deal with gender exclusion. You can conduct training sessions in house, utilize workshops provided by industry associations, or hire HR and legal consultants to discuss these topics. These should also emphasize some of the business benefits of gender equality, including access to customers and supplier diversity.

[Related: 5 Ways Top Companies Are Closing The Gender Gap]

Women can also benefit from access to resources and professional support opportunities, such as those offered by the Society for Human Resource Management and Ellevate Network, and seminars and training opportunities, such as those put on by the National Human Resources Association.

As an executive, you have so much to gain by equalizing the playing field, but if you aren’t bringing these issues to the forefront and preparing your staff to overcome them, you won’t reap the benefits.

Combatting gender exclusion isn’t just about helping qualified women rise through the ranks; it’s about setting the tone for an accepting, socially aware work environment. If you lead by example and embrace more open communication policies at all levels, you’ll understand just what a gender-neutral environment has to offer.

Originally from Turkey, Zeynep Ilgaz and her husband co-founded Confirm Biosciences and TestCountry, where Ilgaz serves as president. Confirm Biosciences is committed to being on the cutting edge of offering new, service-oriented drug-testing technologies and was recognized as one of San Diego’s Best Places to Work in 2013 and 2014.


Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.

{{playbook.title}}

Continue learning with this Ellevate Playbook: