Research: How Ranking Performance Can Hurt Women

When it comes to gender equity in the workplace, many organizations focus largely on hiring more women. But to achieve more equitable representation, it’s also critical to examine disparities in how employees are evaluated and promoted once they’re on board. In this piece, the authors discuss their recent research on this topic, which found that competitive evaluation systems in which employees are ranked against one another can cause men to perform better and women to perform worse (on a task for which their performance would otherwise be roughly the same). They suggest that this likely stems from deeply-ingrained stereotypes that lead men to believe they are better than women in competitive environments, and that lead women to prioritize avoiding harming others. Based on these findings, the authors argue that organizations should build awareness of the potential harms of ranking employees, and that they should consider either adapting or totally overhauling existing performance evaluation systems to focus more on individual progress, and less on social comparisons.

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