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The Language of Gender Bias in Performance Reviews

Photo of Shelley Correll

How negative stereotypes about men and women creep into a process intended to be meritocratic.

A take-charge attitude at work typically earns men positive performance reviews, but for women, assertiveness only gets them so far. Although workplace evaluations are supposed to be merit-based, gender bias too often influences how supervisors rate employees, resulting in women having to meet a higher bar than their male colleagues to advance professionally.

These are the findings of a new study coauthored by Shelley J. Correll, a professor of organizational behavior (by courtesy) at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Published in the American Sociological Review, Correll’s paper pinpoints how and when managers’ beliefs about gender creep into their evaluations of workers.

“Where we find the bigger biases are in evaluations of people’s personalities, their future potential, and on the mentions of exceptionalism,” Correll says. “So if we want to get rid of biases, we need to look at the areas where biases are more likely — personality, potential, and who’s truly exceptional.”

Correll worked with three coauthors: Alison T. Wynnopen in new window and JoAnne Wehneropen in new window, both research associates with the Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab, and Katherine Weisshaaropen in new window, who earned her PhD in sociology from Stanford University in 2016 and is now an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

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