Women are more likely to receive unhelpful feedback in performance reviews, so they’re quitting

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Women, nonbinary and transgender individuals, and people of color are more likely to receive unhelpful feedback in performance reviews than men, according to a new report from the AI-powered writing software platform Textio. This poor feedback hurts their chance to grow in the company and receive salary raises, prompting them to look for jobs elsewhere.

Textio’s analysis of over 13,000 performance reviews shows that women are 22% more likely than men to get feedback about their personalities than their jobs. Descriptors like “collaborative,” “helpful,” or “nice” are most often used for women, while men are more likely to be called “ambitious” or “courageous.”

Language bias also shows up in performance reviews for people of color. While white employees are more likely to be described as “ambitious” or “easy to work with.” Black and Latinx employees are more likely to be described as “passionate” or “professional.” Women of color are also more likely to be called an “overachiever” in their performance feedback than white men. 

Feedback for underrepresented employees focuses more on their personalities, and they are less likely to receive critiques that could help them advance their careers. While 83% of men say they understand what’s expected of them to earn their next promotion, 71% of women, nonbinary, and transgender people say the same. Meanwhile, Black employees report getting 26% more unactionable feedback than non-Black employees.

“If you don’t get feedback about your actual work, you’re never going to get promoted because you don’t know what you need to improve. And you’ll never have the opportunities to earn more because you weren’t promoted,” says Textio cofounder and CEO Kieran Snyder. “It is a cascading effect that starts with the manager-employee communication and the feedback people get.”

Lack of useful feedback also hurts employers, prompting employees to look for opportunities elsewhere. Workers who receive low-quality feedback are 63% more likely to quit their organizations than everyone else, Textio found. And 17% of respondents specifically name insufficient feedback as a primary reason for seeking greener pastures. Relatedly, women and people of color are less likely to say they plan to stay with their company for another year than men and white respondents.

The key to giving better employee feedback is focusing on specifics about the employee’s role. “If you hold yourself accountable to providing specific examples, you are much less likely to fall back on vague generalities, you’re much less likely to dive into personality feedback, you’re much more likely to focus on real deliverables and work,” says Snyder.

For HR heads, coaching managers in real time about their feedback can help catch bias in the moment. Though Snyder notes that HR teams tend to be strapped for time and resources and thus struggle to implement real-time coaching to all managers, he recommends looking at internal data as a start. For example, if marketing employees receive less feedback than employees in other departments, the HR team could focus on coaching marketing leaders on their feedback style. “The insights help you know where to put your time as an HR leader,” she says.

Paige McGlauflin