Women get more 'white lies' in performance reviews than men, study finds

Underperforming women receive less truthful but kinder performance feedback compared to equally underperforming men, according to new research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Lily Jampol, PhD, and Vivian Zayas, PhD, used two studies to inform their paper, "Gendered White Lies: Women Are Given Inflated Performance Feedback Compared to Men." 

In the first, participants read feedback from a hypothetical manager, ranging from the most truthful and harshes to the least truthful statement and nicest. Study participants were then asked to guess the employee's gender based on the feedback in question. 

"Participants overwhelmingly guessed that an underperforming employee who had been told a white lie — the least truthful, but the nicest feedback — was a woman," Dr. Jampol told The Cornell Chronicle.

For the second study, participants graded two poorly written essays by writers identified only by their initials. After submitting their grades, participants were asked to give feedback directly to each writer over chat. This is when the writers' names were revealed: Andrew or Sarah. 

Participants were more likely to tell white lies to Sarah, inflating her grades nearly a full letter grade higher than their initial private evaluation. They also gave her more positive comments than they gave Andrew, who received feedback that was statistically indistinguishable from participants’ initial grading.

Dr. Jampol is a diversity, equity and inclusion strategist at ReadySet, a consulting firm in Oakland, Calif. Dr. Zayas is an associate professor with Cornell University's Department of Psychology. 

Their findings join a robust body of research on the complications women face in both delivering and receiving feedback. 

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