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Why Don’t We Have More Women in Leadership Roles in Tech?

"Why don’t we have more women in leadership roles in Tech?" This is a question I heard frequently throughout my career in Tech. The picture above was taken at a Software Company Leadership Summit in California, which was attended by a majority of white men.

Researchers at Stanford University point out to one reason: the vague feedback that women tend to receive over their careers; by analysing performance reviews from 3 large tech companies, the research uncovered some big differences in the feedback given to men versus women. Women were less likely than men to receive specific feedback tied to outcomes; this was true both for praise and constructive feedback; by contrast, men were offered a clearer picture of what they were doing well, how their performance was impacting the business and what they needed to do to get promoted.

The study also found other gender differences in performance reviews, specifically in language. When women were praised they were twice as likely to receive feedback on team contributions versus individual accomplishments which could hold them back during performance calibration and promotion discussions.

Women were also described as supportive, collaborative, helpful twice as often as men and received 76% of the references of being too aggressive. Men’s reviews include words like drive, transform, innovate, tackle twice as often as women.

Let’s face it: the language used to describe men represents highly valued traits in many industries. The language used to describe women is subjective and difficult to interpret. Another research shows that suggestions for improvement for women focused on personality, emotions and tone, those given to men were more concrete, direct and actionable.

These dynamics can disadvantage women at promotion times. Without specific documented accomplishment, it is hard to promote someone.

When unconscious bias comes into performance appraisals and feedback, it can lead to inaccuracy and unfair treatment based on age, gender, race, ability, religion, appearance, sexual orientation and other traits. Members of all under-represented groups may struggle to obtain constructive, actionable feedback, meaning they will have a harder time improving their performance and advancing in their careers. Giving them constructive, actionable feedback based on company's outcome keeps them from moving into visible roles. Do your part, remember to give everyone equitable feedback!

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