“We like to think of ourselves as unbiased and objective in our employment decisions, but with two equal candidates, who are you going to promote? Someone who is described in their performance evaluations as analytical or someone who is described as compassionate? On the other end of the employment spectrum, if you’re downsizing and have to fire someone and the two people in jeopardy are very similar, who are you going to fire? Someone perceived as arrogant or someone perceived as inept? Leadership attributions in performance evaluations are powerful.
A unique and fascinating data set allowed us to explore the language used to describe individuals in subjective performance evaluations and provides evidence that, as we suspected, language in performance evaluations is applied differently to describe men and women. We analyzed a large-scale military dataset (over 4,000 participants and 81,000 evaluations) to examine objective and subjective performance measures that included a list of 89 positive and negative leadership attributes that were used to assess leader performance in a military leadership setting.
The military provides an interesting and significant setting to evaluate gender bias as it is a long-standing and traditionally male profession that has, over several decades, worked to eliminate formal gender segregation and discrimination. For performance evaluations specifically, the military has long been predicated on meritocratic ideals of fairness and justice providing equal opportunity regardless of demographics. The top-down enforcement of equal employment opportunity policies, hierarchical organization by military rank and not social status characteristics, and recent total gender integration in all occupations are hallmarks of meritocratic organizations where we might expect less gender bias in performance evaluations.
In our analysis we found no gender differences in objective measures (e.g., grades, fitness scores, class standing), which is consistent with prior research. However, the subjective evaluations provided a wealth of interesting findings.”
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