Evaluation Bias and Backlash: Dimensions, Predictors and Implications for Organisations

A meta-analysis of 117 studies that provide rigorous experimental comparisons of men and women who are matched on all dimensions except gender or the particular personal factor being studied which found that women who aspire to leadership and other male dominated occupations carry a heavy and hidden handicap due to unconscious bias.

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.

A briefing note of this study is available here.

Executive Summary

Women who aspire to leadership and other male dominated occupations carry a heavy and hidden handicap due to unconscious bias. Compared to their male peers, women are rated down irrespective of whether they behave in a stereotypically masculine or stereotypically feminine way. These evaluation penalties include being assessed as:

  • less likeable and less agentic than male peers who display the same behaviour
  • less competent for work than their male peers who perform at the same level
  • less desirable as leaders, less hireable and less likely to succeed in their careers than men behaving the same way
  • less likeable, less hireable and having less potential to succeed in their careers, regardless of being judged equally competent as men, when both men and women behave in a stereotypically masculine way
  • these negative evaluations of women relative to men are more pronounced in male dominated occupations.

The findings and recommendations in this report are the product of a meta-analysis of 117 studies that provide rigorous experimental comparisons of men and women who are matched on all dimensions except gender or the particular personal factor being studied. Comparisons were made for male dominated roles (e.g. finance), versus female dominated roles (e.g. teaching) and for leadership versus non-leadership roles.

Unconscious processing and the resulting bias are pervasive and hard to overturn. Unconscious bias affects more judgements and decision than those related solely to gender and diversity. Tackling the diversity challenge provides an opportunity to build a more adaptive learning organizational culture that could enhance performance across many task domains. Four levels of intervention are recommended to help minimize the effects of unconscious bias:

  • raising awareness
  • providing strategies and tools for effective slower, conscious thinking in bias hot spots
  • audit and redesign of systems and processes
  • targeted culture change.

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