Sabotaging Your Talent
When Performance-Support Bias Undercuts Female Achievement
Imagine you run a company that produces paper airplanes. Your workforce is tasked with producing the greatest quantity of high-performance paper airplanes possible, in the least amount of time. When you assess the performance of your employees, you consider their record when it comes to paper airplane production. By and large, your female employees underperform compared with their male peers. At first, this seems like a matter of gender difference: their hands are smaller and their skin is more delicate, and they just don't have the competitive edge or ambition of the male workers. But a closer look reveals key factors contributing to their underperformance: the paper they are provided with does not come with a pre-folded centre line, and also needs to be trimmed to size. So, the paper supplied by the pulp mills has been undercutting the performance of female employees. A similar scenario is playing out in various organisations today. Is performance-support bias undermining the success of your female staff?
THERE IS SPECIAL TREATMENT, BUT NOT WHERE YOU'D EXPECT TO FIND IT
There is no lack of opposition to recent initiatives to close the gender pay gap. Some frequently-raised arguments include: Men work harder than women. Women need to ask for more money. Men are better educated and have more experience. Men work longer hours than women. While these are all untrue, the arguments persist. But perhaps none more vehemently than the assertion that women should not be given special treatment.
As it turns out, however, men may be benefitting from (inadvertent) special treatment in the form of performance-support bias.
CASE STUDY: STOCKBROKERS
A 2012 study found that, "in stock brokerages, women are assigned inferior accounts, which leads to gender differences in performance-based pay. Women produce equal sales to men when given accounts with equivalent prior sales histories." Essentially, the difference in performance came back to the account assignments made by management personnel.
A VICIOUS CYCLE
If we do not understand how the performance of female employees may be reflective of the varying degrees of support they receive, we might make the mistaken assumption that their underperformance is simply an effect of their gender. This reductive reasoning negates the opportunity for inquiry, and perpetuates the cycle that sees women consistently earning less than men.
STRATEGIES FOR MAXIMISING THE VALUE OF YOUR DIVERSITY
If your organisation is undermining its female workforce, it's undermining its productivity and growth.
1. ADOPT RANDOM ACCOUNT ASSIGNMENT (WHEN APPROPRIATE)
Accounts should be assigned randomly unless there is a defensible reason to do otherwise. When an account is not assigned randomly, accountability is key - make the reasoning available to your staff.
2. BE TRANSPARENT
If information regarding account assignments, account quality, and past performance is made available, performance-support bias is less likely to take hold.
3. ENCOURAGE COMMUNICATION
It is one thing to hold an organisational value, it's another thing to practice it.
Put systems in place that encourage your employees to speak up if implicit biases - like the performance-support bias - appear to be influencing decisions in your organisation.
You set yourself up for success when you set your talent up to succeed.
© Dr Kristen Liesch 2017. All rights reserved.