Interrupting Bias in Performance Evaluations

A best practice is for someone at HR to be trained to review performance evaluations to check for possible bias. This worksheet is a good start.

Controlling Prove-It-Again Bias (“PIA bias”)

Groups stereotyped as less competent often have to provide more evidence in order to be judged equally competent. Groups that have to “prove it again” (“PIA groups”) commonly include women, AfricanAmericans, Latino/as, individuals with disabilities, and Asian-Americans (particularly in leadership roles). Here are the technical names for PIA bias.1

Bias Interrupters – What to look for in reviewing performance evaluations:

1. “She’s not ready.” A persistent pattern of PIA groups being seen as “not ready” for promotion may signal that they’re being required to provide more evidence of competence than others, or aren’t given the same access to career-enhancing assignments.

2. Glamour work versus behind-the-scenes work. Asian-Americans are stereotyped as being good at technical work but low on leadership skills. Analyze performance evaluations to assess whether AsianAmericans are doing more behind-the-scenes work and/or have trouble being seen as having leadership or promotion potential.

Controlling Tightrope Bias (gender)

High-status jobs are seen as requiring masculine qualities—but women are expected to be feminine. So women often find themselves walking a tightrope between being seen as too masculine (and so respected but not liked) or too feminine (and so liked but not respected).

Women are expected to be self-effacing and nice—good team players. Men are expected to be ambitious, direct, assertive, and competitive. Women often find themselves walking a tightrope as they try to strike a balance that allows them to be seen both as competent and as likable. 2

Tightrope bias includes pressures to behave in feminine ways, penalties for women who do so, and backlash against women who behave in masculine ways.

Bias Interrupters – What to look for in reviewing performance evaluations:

Backlash for masculine behavior:

1. Separate style from skills. Analyze your evaluations for Tightrope Trigger Words such as “aggressive,” “abrasive,” “sharp elbows,” “outspoken,” “prima donna,” “not a team player,” “a real self-promoter,” “mean,” or “bitch.” One study of performance evaluations found, of those who received negative comments, 75% of women but only 2% of men received comments about negative personality traits;
negative comments about men focused almost exclusively on skill sets they needed to develop further.
(Snyder, 2014). Of course, some women have relevant personality issues; the question is whether a
broader range of behavior is accepted in men than women.