It’s a great feeling when your boss says, great job, keep doing what you’re doing, or reading your performance review and getting a glowing review. It feels great, but as women, we often walk away still not knowing what exactly we did well. Raise your hand if that has ever happened to you. You’ve gotten great feedback, a good performance review, but no real sense of what you need to work on to improve or what specific actions you did well. It might read like this:
Sally performed well this performance year. She does a great job of creating quality client deliverables and establishing client relationships. Sally is very supportive of colleagues and provides mentoring and coaching to junior staff. Sally often appears uncomfortable speaking up in executive settings.
What?? What specific deliverables are being referenced that Sally created? What kind of client relationships did she establish? Were they peer level relationships or senior level? How is she supportive of colleagues? As you can see, this feedback is not very specific or actionable. It lacks examples, is not direct, and Sally would likely struggle to make any behavioral changes based on these kinds of statements.
If you’ve gotten feedback in line with what Sally received, you are not alone. According to many reports, women are more likely to receive positive feedback, but it is often not specific. Women are more likely to be told that they are doing, but their ratings do not always correlate to the narrative feedback details. They are not receiving quality feedback. And this is especially the case when they are receiving feedback from a male. Additionally, when feedback is critical, it is often more subjective.
Why is quality performance feedback important for women?
It impacts skills development, recruiting and retention
Without quality feedback, women may not develop the skills necessary to move to the next level. They may miss out on promotions or challenging projects that support their continued development. High-tech companies are faced with a lack of gender diversity at senior levels, which can exacerbate issues like recruiting and retention of women even at more junior levels.
It impacts compensation and contributes to the ever widening gender pay gap
Compensation decisions are closely linked to the performance appraisal process. In 2017, women earned 80 cents, on average, for every dollar earned by men. If a woman’s performance rating is subjectively lower than her male counterpart’s, that could result in an even greater pay disparity.
What is quality performance feedback?
1. Direct and development focused – High quality feedback will describe what you need to more of, what you need to do better and why.
2. High quality feedback addresses how you are meeting or not meeting all performance dimensions – inclusive of financial metrics, demonstrating technical expertise, building your brand within and external to your organization and not just communication or soft skills.
3. High quality feedback is specific and tied to outcomes with examples. Any assertions, good or bad, are backed up by evidence and examples. According to HBR, even when men were given feedback criticizing their performance it was specific, which then put the male employees in a better position to grow their skillset or make behavioral changes that positively impacted their chances for promotion.
4. High quality feedback balances individual achievements and team contributions. Women’s achievements are often grouped into a team accomplishment while their individual contributions or successes may not be highlighted.
As a woman, how can you make sure you get the right kind of feedback?
1. When having performance discussions with supervisors and leadership, press them for specifics – both on what you’re doing well and where you can improve. Getting these examples will help you to focus on what behaviors to continue and increase, as well as those behaviors you need to change.
2. Make sure that you engage leadership to get feedback more often that just during the annual performance review. Work to get informal feedback on a more frequent basis. Not only is it easier to just grab your boss for a cup of coffee, he or she may offer more candid coaching and feedback during those informal sessions.
3. Make sure that you talk up your own individual accomplishments with leadership; be specific about what you are leading, designing, or delivering – sending a short email at the end of a particularly successful week doesn’t hurt either. Reminding leadership of your achievements will make it easier for them to document these wins when writing your performance reviews – avoid creating scenarios where they have to “remember” your achievements on their own. And don’t be shy about tooting your own horn, your male colleagues are not shy at all.
Getting the feedback you need to advance your career is not always easy but try out these tips and let us know what changes you see in your evaluations!