Inside the Black Box of Organizational Life: The Gendered Language of Performance Assessment
April 2 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Do formal evaluation procedures really reduce bias? As an organizational practice, are they a smokescreen concealing bias or a great leveler that bolsters meritocracy?
While organizations formalize evaluation procedures to help achieve meritocratic outcomes, they often fail to eliminate bias in practice. Managers play a key role in applying such procedures, but researchers have been unable to observe the thought processes guiding managers’ decisions. In this talk, Correll will allow us to peer into managers’ heads through an analysis of the language they use when evaluating employees’ performance.
Using written performance reviews at a Fortune 500 technology company, Correll investigates whether gender stereotypes are reflected in managers’ reviews and whether language patterns are associated with gendered rating outcomes, which play an important role in determining pay and promotion decisions. While performance reviews contain clear descriptions of meritocratic factors, the research finds differences in the language used to describe men and women’s performances. For example, women receive more vague feedback and more criticisms of their personalities, whereas men are described as more visionary. Further, some types of language, such as “taking charge,” are associated with the highest ratings for men but not women. These findings nuance the debate over whether formal procedures help reduce bias, and draw greater attention to the the ways in which organizational practices restrict gender equity in the workforce.
Shelley Correll is a professor of sociology and (by courtesy) organizational behavior at Stanford University, where she directs the Clayman Institute for Gender Research and the Center for Women’s Leadership. She also serves as director of the newly established VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab at Stanford University. She has been quoted in the New York Times on issues of gender, workplace dynamics and organizational culture. Watch her talk ‘Creating a Level Playing Field’ here.