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3 Tips on How to Avoid Gender Bias in Performance Reviews

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Study after study has shown that the implicit biases people hold about race, gender, national origin, and sexual orientation, are a very real problem in today's society. Implicit bias refers to the stereotyped expectations that individuals place upon others as a result of societal and environmentally programmed assumptions. Unfortunately, because implicit bias is difficult to detect, management can frequently be completely oblivious to it.

For employers, implicit bias can result in discrimination lawsuits, not to mention catastrophic public relations nightmares. However, one area that employers can really target to reduce implicit gender bias involves employee performance reviews and feedback. Because performance evaluations are critical when it comes to an employee's career advancement, a biased review can have significant and detrimental effects.

Here are tips on how your business can avoid gender bias during performance evaluations. While there is no magic bullet to end discrimination, there are some simple steps that can minimize an employer's risks.

1. Educate the Reviewers

At a minimum, management level employees should be required to take a training course or seminar about implicit bias. For many people, simply becoming more aware of the potential for implicit bias will help to avoid making consciously biased decisions. By educating individuals about implicit bias, it will be easier for those individuals to recognize when a decision they are making relies on generalized assumptions.

Additionally, as part of the education process, reviewing the reviewers' prior reviews for signs of bias can help identify which reviewers need the most help identifying their own biased perspectives.

2. Provide a Better Rubric

Frequently, the metrics that an employer measures can have gender bias built right into it. For example, implicit bias can be reflected by having checkbox designations for employees that include options like "team player" compared against "team leader," or "hesitant/indecisive" compared against "thoughtful." The later traits, which are clearly more positive attributes than their comparators, have been shown to be more frequently applied for male employees than female employees. It has been found that where men get labeled assertive, women can get labeled as bullies.

3. Use Multiple Reviewers

If possible, employees should be reviewed by not just their managers, but also their peers, subordinates, and even clients or customers. The more varied input that can be collected, the better it is for the employee, as varied input can help improve performance from different perspectives. Additionally, the various sources of reviews and feedback should be evaluated and weighted differently depending on who provided it.

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