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Women Get “Nicer” Feedback — & It Holds Them Back

Published on February 12, 2023

WiS Resource 4

Constructive feedback is essential for anyone’s growth. But as a manager, it can be challenging to strike a fair, consistent balance between being candid and considerate when giving that feedback to different team members. Specifically, in our recent research, we found that even if their male and female employees perform at exactly the same level, managers tend to prioritize kindness more when giving feedback to women than when giving the same feedback to men.

Across a series of studies, we asked more than 1,500 MBA students, full-time employees, and managers based in the U.S. and UK to imagine giving developmental feedback to an employee who needed to improve their performance. The employee was described in exactly the same way to all participants, except that half were told the employee’s name was Sarah, while the other half were told the employee’s name was Andrew. We then asked the participants about their goals going into this conversation, and while they all said they wanted to give candid feedback, those who were told the employee was named Sarah were significantly more likely than those who were told the employee was named Andrew to prioritize being kind as well. This was true regardless of the gender or political leanings of the person giving the feedback: Whether they self-identified as male or female, liberal or conservative, our participants consistently reported being more motivated to be kind when giving feedback to a woman than when giving it to a man.

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