According to a joint study by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org, members of both genders ask for workplace feedback at equal rates, but managers are 20 percent less likely to provide “difficult” feedback to women than to men.
There may be several possible reasons behind a decision to withhold feedback from female employees, from a fear of seeming gender-biased to concerns about being disliked by the employee; Managers cited both reasons as concerns and some also reported a fear of seeming too harsh.
But as it happens, withholding criticism and withholding constructive feedback aren’t the same, and they don’t lead to similar results. Women who don’t receive honest feedback and coaching from their managers often report being left out and left behind and may miss out on opportunities for growth.
What does this mean for managers who — consciously or unconsciously — provide limited corrective or insightful comments to their female employees? If you feel you may fall into this category (regardless of your gender), keep these thoughts in mind.
Criticism isn’t coaching
Simply nitpicking female employees, criticizing them unfairly, or holding them to higher standards than their male peers won’t do the trick. Misogyny and bias often appear in the form of unwarranted criticism, so piling on more negativity won’t win the day. Instead, after an employee mistake or a performance that could use a few improvements, think about your words. Ask yourself three questions before you speak them: Will my words help her improve? Am I hesitating to share feedback because I fear her reaction? Is my criticism justified and fair? If you answer yes to all three, gather your courage and speak your mind.
If you hesitate to provide feedback because you believe your employee might have an emotional meltdown or run crying for the ladies’ room, stop and think. Is this imaginary scenario realistic? Or is it just the product of your own gender-related assumptions? Since it’s probably the second, take this opportunity to correct some faulty wiring and cultural biases within yourself, not your employee. Recognize that despite your assumptions, she probably won’t react this way at all, then deliver your feedback with dignity and confidence.
If you genuinely fear that your criticisms will be poorly received, be honest and open with your employee about this fact. You can simply say “I hesitate to give you negative feedback because I want you to like me, but some things are more important than being liked.” You can also say: “I’m afraid of hurting your feelings, but I believe my feedback can support your growth.”
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