4 January, 2017 – New research by Psychological Consultancy Ltd, a leading firm of chartered occupational psychologists, reveals systematic gender bias in employee performance assessment ratings. The findings, to be presented at today’s Division of Occupational Psychology Conference organised by the British Psychological Society, highlight the need for the informed use of objective performance measures.

Data analysis from over 4,000 employees involved in 360-degree appraisals shows that, while women were more likely to underestimate their own performance, they tended to be more favourable in their ratings towards other employees, particularly females. The research, which includes more than 30,000 performance ratings by participants, peers, managers, subordinates and clients, revealed that women rate their own performance lower than men on 15 of 22 competencies measured (for two of the 24 competencies there was no difference).* However, when rating others, women gave higher ratings than men for 20 of the 24 competencies measured.

The results also revealed that women were never the harshest critic of other women for any of the competencies analysed. Women rated other women significantly higher than men on project management, developing others, interpersonal skills and planning & organising. In contrast, men gave women the lowest performance ratings out of the groups for 19 of the 24 competencies.

“Our results suggest there is systematic bias in the way men and women rate their colleagues’ performance. While women tend to give more favourable ratings to both genders, they are particularly favourable towards other women. Men, in general, tend to be harsher critics,” commented Geoff Trickey, Managing Director at Psychological Consultancy Ltd.

Women were rated significantly lower by men on leadership potential, persuasive communication, customer focus and being creative. However, there was little evidence based on personality data to suggest a performance difference between the genders on these competencies.

“360 assessments help to significantly reduce bias in employee performance appraisals by asking specific, structured questions. But they are not a silver bullet – they can highlight any remaining bias but not eliminate it,” said Mr Trickey. “To make appraisals as fair as possible, organisations should be aware of rater gender and consider asking an equal balance of men and women to rate performance using a 360 tool. Gathering hard performance measures such as sales data or client satisfaction scores adds even more weight to the process and helps to create a more level playing field.”

Ratings were based on Profile:Match360, a competency-based assessment tool used by organisations globally to measure employee performance.

 Notes to editors

*When comparing self-ratings to peer ratings, women underrate their performance on 19 of the 24 competencies compared to men.
The 360 degree assessments involved individuals being rated for potential, rating their own performance and receiving ratings from their clients and colleagues, including managers, peers and direct reports.

‘Who’s the Harshest critic?’. Table showing the number of times the harshest rating is given to men and women and by which group (self, males and females) across 24 workplace competencies.

Gender Assessed Self-rater Male rater Female rater
Men 5 10 9
Women 5 19 0