Briefing Note - Evaluation Bias and Backlash: Dimensions, Predictors and Implications

The briefing note for Evaluation Bias and Backlash: Dimensions, Predictors and Implications for Organisations

This study was one of the four core programs undertaken as part of the Gender Equality Project and was published in July 2012. It was completed while the CEL was located at Melbourne Business School, and as such some of the periphery information regarding the CEL (such as contact details) may have since changed.

The detailed research report is available here.


Scope of research

This research examines two forms of unconscious bias; gender evaluation bias and gender backlash. Gender evaluation bias is a consistent or systematic devaluing of women relative to men in occupational settings. Gender backlash is a form of stereotype bias in which women (or men) who behave counter-stereotypically receive negative social or economic reprisals.

The research comprised a meta-analysis of 84 studies incorporating 117 independent samples across a diverse range of hypothetical occupational contexts. The research compared men and women who were matched on all dimensions except gender and a personal factor that was either stereotypical or counter-stereotypical of the gender.

Specifically, the research addressed:

  • comparisons of men and women on evaluative dimensions relevant to occupational contexts (e.g. agency, social competence, hireability, etc.)
  • the impact of experimental manipulations of stereotypical and counter-stereotypical behaviours and personal characteristics on evaluations of men and women
  • bias in the evaluations of men versus women in personal characteristics and competence, and in outcomes of decision that will have an impact on their careers
  • differences in the evaluations of women versus men when both of them display stereotypically masculine characteristics and behaviours
  • differences in the evaluations of women versus men when both of them display characteristics and behaviours that are consistent with their respective gender stereotypes
  • differential impacts of the gender dominance of occupational contexts (i.e. male dominated, female dominated and neutral) and the status of the job (i.e. leader and non-leader) on the evaluations of men and women
  • recommendations for organisations seeking greater gender equality.

Relevance for organisations

Unconscious bias is one of many factors that contribute to continued discrimination against qualified and capable women and minority groups in organizations. Compared to more conscious prejudice and discrimination, the effects of unconscious bias are more subtle, more pervasive and more difficult to change. More subtle because they are unconscious, which means people are often not aware of their own bias, and because their effects are often not recognizable amongst the milieu of factors that can influence human judgements and decisions. More pervasive because they are embedded in cultural norms that shape interactions between people across a wide range of settings and are often institutionalized in the systems and processes of groups, organizations and societies. Difficult to change because of their subtle and pervasive effects and because the unconscious knowledge that leads to bias is often tied into a rich network of other knowledge that includes identities, beliefs and schema, that govern human function.

Tackling unconscious bias is the new frontier in organizational efforts to improve diversity and inclusiveness in order to collect the benefits that they have been shown to produce across many different domains of performance. In a more general sense, dealing with conscious and unconscious biases in evaluations and decision making processes will also help organisations to: (i) be more effective and more adaptive in decision-making, by organising, synthesising and using information that is relevant to decisions; (ii) generate greater trust from the employees in decisions made through unbiased processes; (iii) create a better learning organization, a place where new and different ideas are welcomed, openly discussed and incorporated accordingly in the organisational strategy for development.

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