Diversity & Inclusion Series, Part 5: Reducing the Impact of Stereotypes During Performance Reviews


In our final part of our Diversity and Inclusion series, we have selected a sample of iconic and measurably impactful behavioral designs, targeting both staff members and managers, at different moments of the employee experience.

Note that the BVA Nudge Consulting’s behavioral design interventions will generally involve a combination of nudges, so as to maximize impact. We also support companies to more broadly build behaviorally-informed organizations.

This example summarizes the measured observations led by Stanford’s Center for the Advancement of Women’s Leadership with a mid-size technology company in the western US. It focuses on managers when evaluating team members.

Performance reviews and diversity

Performance reviews are a key component of an employee’s career progression and compensation.  Most companies approach these reviews by using open-ended questions, which can leave them susceptible to bias.

Some companies have successfully implemented “calibration sessions”, aimed at encouraging managers to discuss the performance of their team members with other managers, so as to eliminate differences between different individuals’ evaluations unrelated to actual competence (e.g. differences in manager expectations, variations in the type of work that was asked of each team member, etc.). However, these calibrations, if not well executed, may also lead to the expression of biases, as highlighted in the below example.

Processes that are not behaviorally optimized can and do harm to an employee’s career progression in many organizations.

The specific case and behavioral diagnosis

In a mid-size technology company in the western US, annual reviews involve managers discussing the respective performance of their staff members in calibration meetings. However, observations showed that rather than discussing actual performance at work, many reviewers commented on personality instead.  Specifically, 14% of women were criticized as being “too aggressive,” while 8% of men were criticized as being “too soft.”

Without any support to guide the conversation around actual key elements of employee competences in open-ended performance review formats, stereotypes were more likely to arise for both men and women, and actually result in a determining impact on employee performance reviews.

The behavioral design

Restructuring the review to be based on evaluation grids with specific criteria (“the scorecards”) reduced personality criticisms: 0% of women were now criticized as “too aggressive,” and only 1% of men were now criticized as “too soft.”

The main levers for success

Providing specific criteria increased the salience of the truly relevant factors to be reviewed, thus combatting the effects of stereotypes and comments on personality.  Improving the salience of the right criteria at the right time is an approach that is often helpful when it comes to minimizing bias in any sort of decision-making.

Tune in tomorrow as we share our next case study: Promoting Diversity in International Mobility by Reframing a Question.

If you missed them, check out the different parts from our Diversity and Inclusion Series: Why Behavioral Science for Diversity?How to Apply Behavioral Science for DiversityBehavioral Science Outputs for Diversity and Mind Your Language #WOMEN4STEMPromoting Diversity in International Mobility by Reframing a Question and Reducing the Gender Pay Gap by Reducing Ambiguity around Negotiating Salary.

In this case study series, we have chosen a range of examples that are both impactful and which play on various levers: framing, default option, messenger effect, and many more. To learn more, please contact us.