When a “perfect 10” isn’t so perfect

In many of the places I’ve worked, part of the annual review process involved evaluating my performance related to different skills and characteristics on a rating scale. Sometimes I ranked myself, or my manager evaluated me, or my peers and dotted-line managers provided ratings.

Based on my experience, I would have never imagined that gender bias can seep into this seemingly objective exercise.

However, recent research published in American Sociological Review shows that quantitative performance ratings are often riddled with gender bias. This tends to happen when employees are rated on a 10-point scale, and is particularly common in industries that are traditionally dominated by men.

If you’re a woman, you might be both surprised and disappointed that there’s another way that your gender interferes with your career. It’s like unequal pay, glass ceilings and biased job interview questions weren’t enough for women to be up against.

Biased performance evaluation results are a big deal. Our performance evaluations often impact raises, bonuses and promotions.

But there’s hope. The researchers behind the study identified an easy way to reduce the gender gaps in quantitative performance evaluations: change the rating scale.

They report that changing the rating scale from 10 points to six points dramatically reduced the gender bias that was prevalent in the evaluations. Who would have thought that changing the numeric scale could have such profound effects?

If you’re curious about why, the researchers speculated that it’s because of the connotations that we have with giving a “perfect 10” score. They think that if an evaluator were to score a man’s performance as a 10, than the same evaluator would be likely to give a woman with the same performance only eight or nine.

A six-point scale doesn’t elicit the same expectations of perfection as the classic 10-point scale. Therefore, evaluators were more open to ranking subjects more objectively.

Check boxes next to smiley faces

This study is interesting because it highlights that things that we think are inherently objective and neutral, like a 10-point ranking scale, can fall victim to people’s unconscious biases. Using a 10-point scale gives these biases a platform to covertly create or worsen significant challenges in the workplace, including gender bias and inequality.

By recognizing the potential damage that 10-point ranking scales can do and implementing changes to their performance evaluations, organizations can help to create more inclusive workplaces.

Would you incorporate a six-point scale if you could change your workplace’s performance evaluations? Share in the comments.

Image credits: Pixabay.com.

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