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Job performance feedback is heavily biased: new Textio report

In 2014, linguist and tech executive (and now Textio CEO and co-founder) Kieran Snyder published a groundbreaking study on the performance reviews of hundreds of high-performing men and women in the technology industry. The language-pattern analysis revealed that while both men and women received critical feedback, the high-performing women were significantly more likely to receive critical feedback that was overtly negative rather than constructive.

Within 48 hours, the report generated 1,500 responses. A revolution in the study of bias in performance reviews was born. Many researchers have since published similar results.

Eight years later, Textio is expanding on that seminal research. Today we're proudly releasing one of the most comprehensive research reports ever produced on language bias in the workplace.

Looking at both survey responses and actual performance feedback documents, we sought to uncover whether different groups of people still receive substantially different feedback. The 2014 study focused on gender; for this update, we looked at gender, race, and age.

Sadly but not surprisingly, the new data reveals major demographic biases, with Black people, Latinx people, workers over 40, and women receiving significantly less actionable feedback than their coworkers.

The survey data showed “the people most underrepresented in business, and especially in leadership, report receiving lower-quality feedback.” The assessment of actual feedback—provided to more than 25,000 people from 250 organizations—backs it up: People from underrepresented groups do indeed receive lower-quality feedback, with inequities found by gender and race as well as age.

A few more of the findings:

  • Women receive 22% more feedback about their personality than men do. Women also receive 30% more exaggerated feedback than men.
  • People under 40 report being described as “ambitious” 2.5x as often as people who are 40 and older.
  • Asian people get more feedback than people of any other race—25% more than white people—and Black men get the least feedback of all.
  • Black men receive 1/3 less feedback than white women on average, as measured by word count.
  • Black women receive nearly 9x as much feedback that’s not actionable compared to white men under 40.

You might ask why this all matters. So what if women are more likely to be called “abrasive” than men? Who cares if white people are called “geniuses” 2.5 times more often than Black people? It matters because people with access to constructive feedback progress faster in their careers, earn more, and have more leadership opportunities.

It’s hardly surprising that the people experiencing the most performance review bias are also consistently the least represented in corporate C-suites and boards.

It also matters because it confirms how challenging it is to implement or institutionalize DEI. Organizations can commit to DEI in policy, as many now do, but getting all employees to be sufficiently conscious of it so that it informs their daily behavior is another thing altogether.

Clearly, there is still much work to do. We can take action to interrupt our biases, support our colleagues in interrupting theirs, and help build more equitable organizations—as managers, leaders, and employees. The first step is awareness.

Read the full report for free here

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