The Subtle Difference Between “You Should Develop This Job Skill” and “Stop Being so Bossy”
This week Kieren Snyder, who holds a PhD in linguistics and is currently the CEO of the small (I think one-person?) tech consulting company Textio, published an independent study on the way male and female job performances are reviewed at U.S. tech companies.
Before I even get into what it says, I want to be clear that this study appears to have been done entirely by Snyder without any kind of partnership with an academic institution. Indeed, I can’t see any evidence that it was peer-reviewed in any meaningful way. (The study was published in Fortune magazine.) Therefore, I think it’s important to take the findings with a grain of salt.
In her study, Snyder reviewed 248 written performance reviews of 180 men and women employed by tech companies. In all, 28 companies of various sizes were represented. The results are extremely interesting, and so skewed by gender that I suspect half of America will read them as proof positive that they’ve been right all along, while the other half will read them as proof positive that Snyder cooked her books.
Here are the most important findings:
58.9% of men received critical feedback; 87.9% of women received critical feedback. According to Snyder, this pattern was consistent regardless of the company size.
Men and women received different kinds of critical feedback for similar shortfalls. Overwhelmingly, according to Snyder, men were given suggestions of ways they could develop “job skills” in areas where their performance was weak. Women were given feedback to similar performance shortfalls — but rather than referring to the shortfalls as “job skill” issues, they were referred to as the result of negative personality traits held by the employee. In fact, negative personality criticisms show up in just under 2% of the employment reviews given to men; it shows up in just under 70% of those given to women.
The reviewer’s gender is not a factor. The results that Snyder found happened regardless of whether it was a male or female doing the performance review. This includes the identification of “job skill” issues vs. “negative personality” issues.
Assuming that Snyder’s data is indicative of the companies she took data from, all of this suggests a rather systemic problem. It also potentially gives some potent ammunition to those that claim that there really is something to those who cite the “bossy” meme as a sign of systemic sexism in the workplace.
[H/T to both the Dish and readers Rebecca and Karen, who all pointed me to the Fortune article.]
 It should also be noted, however, that Snyder’s results do seem to jive with actual academic papers looking at similar kinds of data. Full disclosure here: My spouse, knittingniki, has been a key researcher on many of these academic studies published over the years, especially those that examine this phenomena in the STEM fields.