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Inside the Black Box of Organizational Life: The Gendered Language of Performance Assessment

April 2, 20194:00 pm6:00 pm

Business people in a meeting

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.


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About the Speaker:

Shelley J. Correll is professor of sociology and organizational behavior at Stanford University, where she directs the Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab and the Clayman Institute for Gender Research. Her expertise is in the areas of gender, workplace dynamics and organizational culture. Correll is committed to uncovering and removing the biases and barriers that limit women’s full participation in society. 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.



 Catherine Albiston joined the Berkeley Law faculty in 2003; she also holds affiliate appointments in Sociology and in Gender and Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley. At the law school, Professor Albiston teaches in the J.D. program and in the Ph.D. program in Jurisprudence and Social Policy. Her courses include Employment Discrimination, Sociology of Law, Social Movements and Law, Research Design, and the Advanced Interdisciplinary Writing Workshop on Law.

 Trond Petersen is a professor of Sociology, at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the Associate Dean of the Division of Social Sciences, and is involved in the Management of Organizations group at the Haas School of Business. Peterson’s recent research interests include organizations, social stratification, inequality, economic sociology, comparative studies, and quantitative methods.


This event is co-sponsored by the University of California, Berkeley Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, Department of Psychology and Department of Sociology.