Category Archives for "Career Journey"

June 5, 2019

Self Advocacy & Confidence Gap

Self Advocacy & Confidence Gap

The gap between the self-assurance of men and women in professional settings that can often prove detrimental to the career advancement of women. Research suggests this confidence differential stems from women facing negative reactions to the same behavior that in men would be valued or ignored. [Harvard Business Review]


My team was preparing for our final presentation – three female, three male, and we had to select two of us to present. All three men self-nominated, and all three women agreed that any would do an excellent job. As they began discussing, however, one man interjected that he thought I should present instead of him, not only so that we would represent our team’s gender balance, but also because he thought I was a stronger presenter than him. I was flattered and reminded that I could have asserted myself at the start, but I, (like many women) rarely "self-nominate" myself for any position. 

Another Perspective

It took me about a month to feel comfortable really speaking up in class, and when I talked to other women in our class, we noticed that, across cohorts, women are less likely to be the first to speak up and generally take longer to warm up than the men in the class. I can't speak for everyone else, but for me, I know this was rooted in a lack of confidence in my preparation for business school and anxiety that others wouldn't value my contributions. 

Facts and Data

  • Based upon data from HP, women applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the new position, while men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. [The Atlantic]

  • Laszlo Bock, Google’s former head of HR, described his first experiment: he asked prospective employees to rate their abilities from one to five. After looking at self-ratings and subsequent performances of those who were hired, he concluded two things. One, that men who rated themselves fives should never be hired due to debilitatingly inflated views of themselves; and two, that women who rated themselves fives should absolutely be hired because “there’s societal pressure around women being self-effacing and more modest. For a woman to say she’s a five, she’s going to be amazing.” [Financial Times]

Take Action

  • There are many ways to mitigate this confidence gap in institutional ways. At Google, they found female engineers were not applying for self-promotions as much as men were. In response, they simply sent an email explaining that this was the case along with two studies that showed that women were less likely to self-nominate but were just as capable, and sometimes moreso. The application rate for women shot up, so they continued to send the email. As further proof this nudge itself was causing the better results, when they once forgot to send it, the applications for women dropped sharply, showing the nudge did matter. [Washington Post]

  • Encourage female colleagues to believe in themselves, take on stretch assignments, and take smart risks. Often, all it takes is providing more transparency about what these risks entail.

  • Remember that hesitation to jump into things and attempts to “follow the rules” do not equate to lack of ability.

  • Realize there is a thin line between recognizing the reality of self-limiting conditioning and blaming women for factors outside of their control. The confidence gap comes from women facing negative consequences for their behavior more than men do, not from women being naturally less confident.

June 5, 2019



A person senior to you who advocates for your career progression (vs a mentor who simply advises) [Glass Door]


My boss regularly encouraged and supported me to take on new challenges and provided me opportunities to do so. For example, he asked me to present our work at city, state and nation-wide events in which he could have easily just presented the work himself. It was more work for him to guide me through it and he took a bit of a risk putting me out there, but he valued me and my professional development. 


"What, do you think I'm too old for you?" said a 50-year old to me at a conference party – the next day my boss introduced me to him as the CEO of our department's 5th largest supplier: he said hi and immediately walked away. I felt pressure to not go to meetings with this CEO to avoid making him feel awkward AND, to top it off, I got reprimanded by my boss for 'skipping meetings' and had to explain why I wasn't going.

Facts and Data

  • Research indicates that women have many mentors, but few sponsors, and even fewer senior-level sponsors. White men often have an easier time sponsoring other white me and are less comfortable informally reaching out to junior female employees, especially women of color [Harvard Business Review]

  • The percentage of men with sponsors (19%) is almost more than 50% higher than the percentage of women (13%) [NY Times]

  • Across more than 30,000 employees from over 100 companies, two in three men indicated that the leaders who helped them succeed were mostly men, whereas only one in three women indicated the leaders who have helped them were mostly men [McKinsey / LeanIn]

Take Action

  • Men can consciously or unconsciously avoid sponsoring women in the workplace. Spending one-on-one time with women can feel uncomfortable purely because of the optics. Since sponsorship is crucial for professional development however, make a concerted effort to overcome these obstacles and sponsor women

  • Some companies have created formal sponsorship programs that help connect junior employees to more senior employees. The intentionality behind the programs can help overcome the barrier to entry for people to connect across difference. Read about some examples here

May 10, 2019

Stretch Assignments

Stretch Assignments

Stretch assignments or "hot jobs" can make careers. These are jobs that:

  1. Are on highly visible projects,

  2. Hold mission critical value

  3. Involve international experience

One report found that "62% of high potential employees described obtaining stretch and high-profile assignments... as having the greatest impact to their careers." Critical relationships came in a strong second (44% named this), and formal learning programs a distant third (only 10%). These are not completely distinct activities (relationships can lead to stretch assignments, for example), but it's worth nothing that stretch assignments were named the most.

When these jobs aren't going to underrepresented people because of either explicit or unconscious bias, careers don't have the opportunity to get off the ground [Catalyst]

Facts and Data

  • Men are more likely to be given higher profile assignments. Significantly more men than women reported getting C-Suite visibility to a very great extent while working on projects (35% of men, 26% of women) [Catalyst]

  • Men are more likely to be given more management duties. Men’s project teams had more than three times as many employees staffed to them as women’s [Catalyst]

  • Men are more likely to be given projects with bigger budgets. The budgets of the projects men reported working on were more than twice the budgets of women’s projects [Catalyst]

  • Men are more likely to work on global teams with extensive travel. 88% of men and 77% of women said they traveled for work internationally, yet women were not any more likely to turn down international work when it was offered (11% of men, 10% of women). Additionally of men and women willing to relocate internationally, more men had an employer initiate an international assignment (35% of men, 26% of women) and more women than men were never offered an international relocation opportunity at all (55% of men, 64% of women) [Catalyst]

Significantly more men than women reported that their projects involved a high level of risk to their company [CatalystFrom 248 reviews (141 by men / 107 by women) of 180 people (105 men / 75 women) [Fortune]


Moving to a globally managed talent system has helped us increase the representation of women in leadership roles in areas where we’d historically had less success. Everyone from across the company puts their people in a shared pool, and when employees are in this pool, they can be considered for all available roles. This helps ensure everyone gets to know our high-potentials from around the world and has gotten people focused on promoting a diverse pipeline. ~ Jan Fields, President, McDonald’s USA, LLC (source)

An Observation

Stretch assignments are vital to get to the next level faster. They don’t go to women and people of color as much, which is a problem. I think it plays out like this somewhat unconsciously: it’s harder to trust somebody who's very different from you. Choosing someone more similar feels like you're de-risking the situation since you can more easily coach that person through challenging situations. For someone someone very different, the chances of failing are much higher because I don't know how to jump in there and guide and coach and make this person successful in whatever that stretch assignment or what that opportunity is. I don't think this is how this process should work, but I think it's the mindset that commonly happens. ~ SVP at Fortune 200 Company 

The sweet spot of development or high achievers is a 50 to 70% chance of success [HBR] 

Take Action

  • Act as a trusted advisor and sponsor to those who are ready for a stretch assignment. By definition, those taking on stretch assignments need support. All people get nervous about taking on tasks they’ve never done before. Make sure to provide real support, recognition, responsiveness to unforeseen circumstances, and a realistic assignment (it’s stretch, not impossible). Help confirm the high performer's true strengths, find the right assignment, and plan the project together. Identify the key challenges and conditions for success, including internal communication and resources. Define a realistic timetable for objectives, including learning, building relationships, and scoring “early wins” [HBR]
  • Allocate critical assignments to high potentials in more intentional and strategic ways. Distribute "hot jobs" in a purposeful way, track demographics of those in mission critical roles. Develop matrix responsibilities that enable high potentials to participate in prestigious content-driven or expertise-driven initiatives [BCG] [Catalyst]
  • Not all stretch assignments are created equal, give or choose them wisely. Short-term projects are a good way to stretch without committing to a permanent change. Additionally, the most meaningful stretch assignments are the ones that push people not just into more responsibility but into more cross-cultural collaboration (whether it’s working across units, functions or geographies). This is a key competence for global leaders [HBR]

April 23, 2019

Credit & Amplification


Proactively referencing someone's name when talking about their original idea/contribution in order to give credit. It can be used in many settings: meetings, talks, writing, etc. This is in response to the dynamic that women’s contributions, especially women of color, are often ignored or attributed to men. [Washington Post]

Facts and Data

  • One study asked participants to look at pictures and read info on two people working together: worker one and worker two. There were two version of these materials: half the time, the pictures indicated the first worker was female and the second male, the other half switched the workers. When asked to evaluate these two workers, both male and female participants, across both sets of materials, rated the female worker as less competent and less influential by 1.5 points (out of 9) [American Psychological Association]
  • A joint study by Harvard, Wharton, and MIT found that entrepreneurial pitch videos that had a male narrator were twice as likely to be funded than the exact same video and script narrated by a woman. This exact same pitch with a male voice was more likely to be described as “persuasive”, “logical”, and “fact-based”. [PNAS]


I always appreciate the "alley oop" - I've had a few close male colleagues who point out when someone steals my point. They do it in a very low-key way, such as, "I think that's exactly what Yuriko was just saying. 

More Champions

One of my managers (after reading the amplification article about the women in the White House working for Obama) made a point to proactively use everyone’s name (not just women) when talking about their good ideas in team meetings (he didn’t do this with bad ideas - probably a good move). 

Hear it FirstHand

A few jobs ago my boss wouldn't accept ideas from women. My coping mechanism, as the ops manager for the company that he CEOd, was to plan 3 months out, offer the idea, plan to have him reject it, wait 3 months until he forgot it was me who originally had it, and have him re-suggest it at a meeting so I could say "Great idea! Let's do that!". 

Take Action

  • Amplify others ideas and contributions. Proactively give credit to people for their good ideas. If you see someone who is not getting credit for a good idea, double your effort to do so. This happens to everyone, but women of color are most likely to not get credit.

  • Create clear criteria for what excellence looks like. This will help you give accolades and credit with more accuracy. Bias thrives in ambiguity.

  • Publicly praise people who do good work. Women who were given positive feedback were more likely to give themselves credit for the good work they did.

  • Be specific when giving credit. This helps listeners to truly take in someone’s accomplishments.

April 23, 2019



Who you know and the quality of the relationships in your network play a large role in finding and being selected for valuable opportunities. Being known helps with finding and getting hired for jobs, being given important "stretch assignments" that advance career, and finding "sponsors" who will advocate for advancement in essential ways.

An individual's personal and professional networks are mostly made up of people of similar backgrounds, interests, and cultures. While it's understandable that people make friends and networks of likeminded people, that also creates obstacles for the advancement of people who don't fall into the networks of powerful, senior leaders who are predominantly white, heterosexual men.

Facts and Data

  • Networking with senior colleagues leads to advancement and women get less face time. High potential employees described forming critical relationships with influential others as most impactful to their advancement (44% of those surveyed), particularly when it came to gaining access to key roles. Additionally, significantly more men than women reported getting C-Suite visibility to a great extent while working on projects (35% for men, 26% for women) [Catalyst]

  • People do benefit from networking. Organizers of a women's networking conference surveyed 2,600 working women across functions and industries. Their control group was made up of women who were signed up for a conference in the near future but had not yet attended. They found that 42% of the women who had already attended the conference had received a promotion whereas only 18% of the control group did. Additionally, 15% of the women who had attended received a pay increase (of 10%+) vs only 5% of the women in the control group [HBR]

  • Emails from prospective students to professors across graduate programs were much less likely to be responded to if they came from women and people of color. Researchers from Wharton, Columbia, and NYU Stern sent 6,000 faculty members (spanning a range of disciplines) letters from "would-be grad students" expressing interest in talking about research opportunities in the program, becoming a graduate student and learning about the professor's work. The letters asked for a 10-minute discussion. The letters were identical in every way except for the names of the fictional people sending them (e.g. Brad Anderson for white men; Keisha Thomas for black women; Mei Chen for Chinese women; Juanita Martinez for Latina women). The response rates varied widely as you can see in the table below [Inside Higher Ed]

A survey of more than 6,000 faculty members, across a range of disciplines, has found that when prospective graduate students reach out for guidance, white males are the most likely to get attention.  [Inside Higher Ed]

Hear it FirstHand

Just because it's not golf anymore doesn't mean that there's not a boys' club in tech, mostly made up of white and sometimes Asian men. It's a lot more well intentioned, but I have experienced informal networks that end up excluding a lot of people. There is a culture in which social and business are melding in Tech right now. You do your happy hour with coworkers and get drunk together... I was actually delighted by this at first when I started some years back, but now I've realized how problematic that can be. Again, it's not intentional, but your manager's surfing and burning man buddies absolutely have a leg up. 

Hear it FirstHand

I was sitting in a boardroom with 4 male board members debating a strategic decision when we decided to take a short break and reconvene in 5 minutes. After the break, the other board members were talking among themselves and one of them said "Well I'm glad that's decided - Let's move on." It turned out that they had made the decision in the men's restroom without me. 


At my consulting firm, on most projects for team building we would go to basketball games and drink. I had fun (even though I don't really know or care about basketball), but I also felt out of place and couldn't really connect with diehard basketball fans. But I had one great manager who would always make sure we did team building events that were more inclusive, stuff like morning spin classes, board games, escape rooms. We did one of those scavenger hunt games once, which while kinda corny actually was really fun. It helped me get to know everyone much better. 

Women have less and less substantive interactions with senior leaders than men do as they progress [McKinsey]

Take Action

  • Hold events that are inclusive of everyone. Historically, leadership of powerful institutions have been heterosexual, white men and have engaged in activities for this demographic. These "traditional" kinds of business events can end up being exclusive, even if unintentionally. There’s no one-size-fits-all type of event that will fit a company culture, but avoid events with heavy alcohol consumption and anything of a gendered or sexual nature. Common events like watching sports or playing on an office softball team can end up being either inclusive or exclusive depending on how they're done

  • Create a culture conducive to forming connections between everyone. Leaders can ask colleagues and supervisees about the occasions when they are the most connected to colleagues and most relaxed while at work. In the situations that white male leadership describe, are there women or people of color also present? If not, why not? If so, is everybody enjoying themselves? [BCG]

  • Support others' "Strategic Networking". Three different types of networks play a vital role in achieving goals: Operational, Personal, and Strategic. Operational Networks help you manage current internal responsibilities, Personal Networks boosts professional development, and Strategic Networks focus on advancement and and the stakeholders to help you get there. The suggestion here is to facilitate Strategic Networking since Operational and Personal don't have as much bang for their buck [World Economic Forum]

  • Create sponsorship programs. Sponsorship programs are those in which the company identifies promising up-and-comers and matches them with senior leaders who can advocate for their promotions, team assignments, and training and development. Lots of research shows these programs generate real results. [BCG] A different newsletter of ours covers "Sponsorship" in more depth

Because more men are senior leaders and because women have fewer men in their networks they are at a disadvantage career wise [McKinsey]

April 23, 2019



Finding the right talent means recruiting strategically. Recruiting is hard, period, and companies spend tons of time and resources optimizing their processes. A Forbes Corporate HR Specialist estimates that companies spend on average $4,000 per candidate, and that the amount of money spent on recruiting annually is over $200 billion worldwide [Forbes]

Facts and Data

  • Recruiting reflects the priorities and cultures of organizations whether intentional or not – this includes where recruiting happens (physically or digitally), who does it, who is targeted, what recruiting materials look like, and many more factors. How these different aspects are executed plays a significant role in shaping the demographics of a company’s workforce

  • Hiring decision makers report lack of D&I investment is a major barrier to recruiting. Three in five hiring decision makers say that a lack of investment in D&I is a challenge to attracting and hiring quality candidates [Glassdoor]

  • D&I are a highly important measure of recruiting success. In fact, only two other measures are rated more important than hiring decision makers: “the costs a company incurs for generating applicants” and “securing a hire” [Glassdoor]

  • Companies are spending more and more on diversity and inclusion (D&I) recruiting efforts. Glassdoor released a report indicating that one in three hiring decision makers expect to increase investment in D&I efforts while only 3% expect it to decrease (the remainder are continuing to invest at the same levels) [Glassdoor]

Diversity and Inclusion sourcing strategies have real benefits [Lyft-Greenhouse]


We also need to diversify where we’re posting jobs listings. We saw a huge impact on our pipeline once we began listing jobs on diversity recruiting sites such as NAACP and Ebony ~ Ariana Moon, Senior Recruiter, Greenhouse (source) 

Take Action

  • Assemble recruiting teams that will attract the diverse talent you’re looking for. Who somebody sees at a recruiting table, the names people see on websites, and the speakers who they hear as representatives of your company will all form impressions in the minds of potential candidates. If your recruiting team’s demographics are homogenous, you will likely be losing out on candidates who either (1) see that you don’t understand or prioritize D&I enough to make this effort, and/or (2) cannot see themselves succeeding at your company

  • Proactively reach out to underrepresented candidates. Look for professional groups, traditionally Black and female schools, Black and Jewish fraternities, sororities, veteran groups, disability support groups, and LGBTQIA groups. Many of these groups distribute open job opportunities to their members via email, social media, or a job board. For example, iHispano is targeted toward Hispanic and Latinx professionals, while lnHerSight is targeted toward women. Schools have career centers and job boards for current students and alumni that can help you reach out to different kinds of people [Lyft-Greenhouse]

  • Don’t solely recruit at elite schools and companies. Sourcing candidates only from top tier (and often non-diverse) schools and a limited number of (equally non-diverse) companies severely constrains the candidate pool. There are many smart and capable people whose life circumstances didn’t put them in an ivy league school [Paradigm]

  • Use your existing employees to reach out to underrepresented people and groups  Your employees are already involved with the communities you hope to build stronger ties to: think of meaningful way to partner with them: (1) Learn about the issues they care about, look for areas of overlap with your company, and plan events together; (2) Team up with community groups to sponsor a table at their events; (3) Participate as a speaker at their events and invite them to do the same at your company; (4) Connect community members with internal mentors at your company [Lyft-Greenhouse]

  • Create a diversity sourcing strategy for every role. Individual hiring managers can focus less on organization-wide numbers and instead on the makeup of the team you’re recruiting for. Ask what diversity looks like on that team and go after specific underrepresented profiles [Greenhouse]

  • Create Diversity & Inclusion recruiting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). KPIs measure success. Look at your diversity sourcing strategies and assess whether you are getting applicants through your recruiting and hiring process with those strategies [Greenhouse]

Experts Advise

Do not stop diversity recruiting efforts for a reason such as, “We already have too many qualified applicants in our database, and do not plan to have any open positions.” Because then when a position does open up, there are  predominantly white applicants in your database, many of which have been referred by current employees. ~ Zip Recruiter (source) 

Learn More

April 23, 2019



Negotiations happen throughout someone's career, most commonly around hiring and promotion. Gaining a better salary through negotiations has been named as a significant factor in the pay gap between women and men who share similar roles, backgrounds, and levels of experience.

Many different studies show that stereotypes negatively affect how someone who initiates negotiations is perceived. Initiating negotiation goes can lead people to feel irritated or resentful at the same behavior from a woman of color that from a white man would would seem acceptable.

Facts and Data

  • Women opting out of negotiations can be a smart move. Researchers set up a negotiation laboratory. They found that 49% of women get a better deal after negotiations; 9% end up with a worse deal; 8% end with no change; and 34% don't negotiate at all. To determine if avoiding negotiations 34% of the time was financially wise, the researchers did a second experiment in which they mandated that women negotiate. When this happened, women’s overall wages decreased – 49% of women still got a better deal, but the percentage of women who got a worse deal increased from 9 to 33% [HBR]

  • Women may benefit from negotiating in some situations. One study asked actual graduating master's degree students who had received job offers about whether they  accepted their offered starting salary or had tried to negotiate for more. They found that four times as many men (51% of the men vs. 13% percent of the women) had pushed for a better deal. Those who negotiated tended to be rewarded: they got 7% percent more on average [Washington Post]

  • Women are seen more negatively for negotiating. In another study, researchers divided 119 volunteers at random into different groups and provided them with descriptions of male or female candidates who tried to negotiate a higher starting salary for a hypothetical job, along with descriptions of applicants who accepted the offered salary. The volunteers were asked to decide whether they would hire the candidates, who were all described as exceptionally talented and qualified. While both men and women were penalized for negotiating, researchers found that the negative effect for women was more than twice as large as that for men [Washington Post]

  • Women DO initiate negotiations as often as men when comparing those of similar backgrounds. Women on average are less likely to be successful, but there's no difference between millennial men and women. Researchers in  Australia examined 4,600 randomly selected employees across 800 workplaces. Australia was chosen because it documents useful info  on “asking” behavior. They found that, holding background factors constant, women ask for a raise just as often as men, but men are more likely to be successful. Women who asked obtained a raise 15% of the time, while men obtained a pay increase 20% of the time. That being said, these same researchers also found that younger women in the labor market appear statistically indistinguishable — even in “getting” — from the younger men. Hence it could be that negotiating behavior through the years has begun to change

Despite the fact that women negotiate for raises and promotions more than men, they are less likely to receive them [McKinsey]

An Academic's Conclusion

What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not. They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not... This isn't about fixing the women. It isn't about telling women, "You need self-confidence or training." They are responding to incentives within the social environment... It makes sense that women are more reticent to negotiate for themselves than men if the social costs of doing so are greater for women than they are for men. ~ Hannah Riley Bowles, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Management at Harvard Kennedy School of Public Policy [Washington Post]


Telstra, the Australian telecommunications provider, recently developed a female talent strategy that includes a newly launched website featuring real role models, pertinent advice for career-oriented women, and targeted recruiting messaging for this audience (for example, highlighting a proactive approach to gender pay equity). The communications provider has seen a double-digit increase in the number of job applications from women [BCG]

Take Action

  • If you allow negotiations, let all candidates know they can negotiate. Using a "natural field experiment" researchers designed a randomized control trial of nearly 2,500 actual job seekers. They posted a job online and sent back job application forms that either explicitly named negotiations were invited or left it ambiguous. The researchers found that the gender gap in applications was much bigger for jobs that left wage negotiation ambiguous, and that including the wage was “negotiable” in the job application caused the gender gap in applications to reduce by 45%. Lastly, they found that when there was no explicit statement that wages are negotiable, men were more likely to negotiate than women, but when it was explicit there was no negotiation gender gap [Harvard Kennedy School]

  • Set salaries by role and avoid negotiations. If companies determine starting salaries using a candidate’s previous salary, this greatly exacerbates pay gaps over the course of a career [Paradigm]. BCG suggests eliminating these negotiations altogether since they have been proven to disproportionately negatively impact women [BCG]

  • Monitor negotiation and pay outcomes. Regularly reviewing pay across the organization can help avoid bias and ensure equity. Reviewing compensation policies and monitoring for bias at each stage in compensation-setting is helpful for uncovering the source of inequities, if they do exist. [Paradigm]

April 23, 2019



Evaluations provide a formal assessment of someone's job performance often with recommendations on how to improve and further developmental goals. Feedback is often a part of evaluations, but is distinct. Many organizational behavior experts suggest de-coupling evaluations and feedback as much as possible. [HBR]

Facts and Data

  • Unconscious beliefs about what leaders look like can affect evaluations. Studies have found that people underrepresented in business leadership are often deemed less suitable for leadership roles. For example, a 2008 study asked participants to read a story about a male CEO and then to rate the CEO on his effectiveness as a leader. When the CEO was described as white, he was perceived as a more effective leader than when he was described as black. The story was exactly the same [Paradigm]

  • Biases can lead to gender double-standards. One researchers who looked through many performance evaluations found the same behavior was treated differently from men than women. One review read “Heidi seems to shrink when she’s around others, and especially around clients, she needs to be more self-confident.” But a similar problem —­­ confidence in working with clients —­­ was given a positive spin when a man was struggling with it: “Jim needs to develop his natural ability to work with people.”[HBR]

  • Bias creeps in most the evaluation process is ambiguous and open-ended. Performance evaluations without structured intermittent feedback and evaluation sessions tend to rely on the supervisors impressions. Impressions are very susceptible to unconscious bias. Additionally, evaluations that lack clear metrics tied to job outcomes also invite impressions rather than objective data [Paradigm]


I had no idea of what I was doing, and it was a nightmare. The line of work I was assigned to was really complicated, and I didn’t think I could last here. The conversations I had with my line manager were very honest — “This is where you’re technically capable, but also this is where you’re not” — and I could then look at the cold facts of the ratio between the two. We had a chat about what support would and wouldn’t be available to help with some of those gaps, how much I’d have to learn and how fast I’d have to learn it, and we compared it to some of the things I’d done previously, and it came out it’d probably work out. It’s really worth having someone say, “You did that really well, your technical work there was great, but you didn’t explain it in a manner that your audience could understand.” Very honest

feedback helped me to now have the confidence to know what I can do and try to swim when thrown in at the deep end. ~ Jennita, Process Engineer (source)

Hear it FirstHand

There was a woman who I supervised who wasn't performing up to the standards I had. I tried to bring this up to her at one point, but she seemed upset by what I had to say. After that I got nervous about giving her feedback because I didn't want to make her feel bad. But she wasn't performing well either and so I was stuck with this situation where I really needed her to improve but I didn't know how to tell her. It wasn't good, and I realize now that even though I was trying not to hurt her feelings, I also was not helping her career. 

Take Action

  • Use hard data and clear metrics for evaluations. Make key decisions based on hard data and less on subjective, qualitative elements, such as comments on a candidate’s personality or personal circumstances [BCG]

  • Evaluating employees in small groups and comparing them to each other reduces bias. Researchers gathered data on how well 100 experiment participants, "employees", performed at math and verbal problems (polls of gender attitudes show most believe men are better at math and women better at verbal tasks). They then threw out the scores of all participants except those who got mediocre test results. Next, they asked 554 other participants, "employers", to choose from this smaller set of "employees" (including knowing their gender) and choose which they thought would do best on another round of tasks. When "employers" were given only one "employee" at a time, gender stereotypes played out – male candidates were chosen for math t asks and female candidates for chosen for verbal tasks. When "employers" were given both a male and female candidate at the same time, this stereotype disappeared [HBS Working Knowledge]

April 19, 2019



The best selection processes are those that have articulated what characteristics make a great employee and have effective ways to evaluate those characteristics.

Even if you didn't care about fairness to the candidates themselves, structuring interviews and mitigating biases is proven to be the best way to choose the best candidates, rather than choosing the person who is good at interviewing or "looks the part".

Unconscious bias weighs most heavily when we don't have adequate structure or evaluation criteria. In addition to addressing those two issues, other straightforward steps can also be very helpful: finding diverse candidate pools and appointing diverse hiring boards.

Facts and Data

  • Orchestras in the 70s began adding way more women after conducting "blind" auditions. Researchers collected audition records from 8 major symphony orchestras that consisted of 14,121 person-rounds, 7,065 individuals and 588 audition-rounds. Top orchestras went from 6% to 21% female after implementing a new process in which musicians auditioned behind a curtain. The curtains ensured the judges could not be unconsciously biased by seeing the musician’s gender. According to Harvard's analysis, blind auditions explain 25% of the increase in women in orchestras between the 1970s and 1990s. [Harvard Kennedy School]

  • An analysis of medical school selection processes found that interviews provided no predictive value in student success. In the late 80s, Texas legislators required the UT Houston to increase the medical school class size from 150 to 200 — after they had already chosen their 150 students. This turned into an eye-opening field study that showed the value of their application process. The results? There turned out to be no performance difference between initially accepted and initially rejected students. Furthermore, the researchers found that about 75% of the difference in initial ratings between initially accepted and initially rejected students was due to interviewers’ perceptions of the candidates in unstructured interviews, not more objective measures [HBR]

  • Elite jobs often are awarded based on "cultural fit" not ability. A study in 2012 done of elite investment banking, consulting, and law firms found that their interview processes heavily relied on "cultural matching" (i.e. similarity to the interviewer) rather than ability. The researcher found that 75% of Law firms, 65% of Investment Banks, and 40% of consulting firm hirers used cultural matching as their top evaluative criteria [Kellogg Northwestern]

Most selection processes are not more than 50% accurate. Your most realistic bet is some kind of General Mental Ability test coupled with a STRUCTURED interview [American Psychological Association]


I was on an interview panel once for a job opening in our department. One applicant used only male pronouns when talking about ANYONE. All hypothetical employees were "he" and managers were "him," etc. It was awful. I cringed every time the applicant opened his mouth. At the end of the interview, the man who was on the panel with me, made a polite comment that our organization is very diverse and we can't blanket everyone with he/him pronouns. When the applicant left, my coworker acknowledged how bad that interview may have felt for me and mentioned that he himself was uncomfortable with the applicant's use of pronouns. 

What Not to Do

It seems like we’re always at work. We work nights; we work weekends; we are pretty much in the office or traveling. It’s way more fun if the people around you are your friends. So, when I’m interviewing, I look for people . . . I’d want to get to know and want to spend time with, even outside of work . . . people I can be buddies with. ~ Consultant (source) 

What Not to Do

A lot of this job is attitude, not aptitude . . . fit is really important. You know, you will see more of your co-workers than your wife, your kids, your friends, and even your family. So you can be the smartest guy ever, but I don’t care. I need to be comfortable working everyday with you, then getting stuck in an airport with you, and then going for a beer after. You need chemistry. Not only that the person is smart, but that you like him. ~ Banker (source) 

Take Action

  • "Cultural fit" obviously matters, but assess it in a considered and structured way. Culture fit interviews, like all interviews, can be less biased when they are designed to assess for specific, predetermined factors that are relevant to the job: e.g., the candidate is collaborative, likes taking on challenges, is comfortable with a quickly changing environment [Paradigm]

  • Use structured interviews. Structured interviews standardize the process among candidates, eliminating much subjectivity. These interviews pose the same set of questions in the same order to all candidates, allowing clearer comparisons between them. This may seem obvious approach, but is very underused. The flow of conversation during the interview will be slightly more awkward, but the payoff is worth it. You can do a "cultural fit" interview after doing the main structured part [HBR]

  • Develop a rubric to assess interview answers in advance. Developing a rubric to define what great answers, decent answers, and poor answers look like for each question ensures that all candidates are held to the same standard. In addition to minimizing bias, this type of structured process has been shown to produce the most effective hiring decisions [Paradigm]

April 10, 2019



To become more effective and fulfilled at work, people need a keen understanding of their impact on others and the extent to which they’re achieving their goals in their working relationships. Direct feedback is the most efficient way for them to gather this information and learn from it. Research and anecdotal evidence point to the fact that underrepresented groups are less likely to receive feedback – and the feedback that is given is more likely to be unconstructive [HBR]

Facts and Data

  • Women are more likely to get vague and unconstructive feedback. Researchers' analysis of over 200 performance reviews within one large technology company showed that reviews for women had vague praise more often than reviews for men (57% and 43%, respectively). Comments such as “You had a great year” populated many women’s reviews. The analysis also found that developmental feedback for men was more likely to be linked to business outcomes (60% for men versus 40% for women) [HBR]
  • Both men and women are more likely to give women feedback on "personality flaws" rather than developmental feedback. Researchers found that women were 1.4 times more likely to receive critical subjective feedback (as opposed to either positive feedback or critical objective feedback). For example, such feedback might be, “Stephanie, your replies to partners about client matters are often not on point” rather than “Stephanie, you have missed important opportunities to provide clear and concise information, such as X. I have some thoughts on how you could prevent that from happening again, such as Y.” [HBR] One other informal study of 248 personnel reviews found that women are just as likely to give this kind of unconstructive feedback to other women too [Fortune]
  • Unsolicited offers for help undermine confidence and women are more likely to get them. In another experiment, fake teammates told some undergraduate participants who were working on a task, “Let me help you with this. I know this kind of thing can be hard for some girls/guys.” Both male and female participants who were treated in this benevolent manner felt worse about their own ability — they had lower self-efficacy — than participants who were not helped [HBR]
  • Women's communication style is critiqued much more than men's. When women receive specific developmental feedback, it tends to be overly focused on their communication style. While ability to communicate can be an important skill for leaders, it is noteworthy that women received most of the negative feedback about communication styles. Comments such as “Her speaking style and approach can be off-putting to some people at times” point to a manager’s concern but do not offer ways to improve specific behaviors. This kind of feedback was frequently offered in women’s reviews. In fact, 76% of references to being “too aggressive” happened in women’s reviews, versus 24% in men’s [HBR]

From 248 reviews (141 by men / 107 by women) of 180 people (105 men / 75 women) [Fortune]


I had no idea of what I was doing, and it was a nightmare. The line of work I was assigned to was really complicated, and I didn’t think I could last here. The conversations I had with my line manager were very honest — “This is where you’re technically capable, but also this is where you’re not” — and I could then look at the cold facts of the ratio between the two. We had a chat about what support would and wouldn’t be available to help with some of those gaps, how much I’d have to learn and how fast I’d have to learn it, and we compared it to some of the things I’d done previously, and it came out it’d probably work out. It’s really worth having someone say, “You did that really well, your technical work there was great, but you didn’t explain it in a manner that your audience could understand.” Very honest feedback helped me to now have the confidence to know what I can do and try to swim when thrown in at the deep end. ~ Jennita, Process Engineer (source) 

Hear It FirstHand

There was a woman who I supervised who wasn't performing up to the standards I had. I tried to bring this up to her at one point, but she seemed upset by what I had to say. After that I got nervous about giving her feedback because I didn't want to make her feel bad. But she wasn't performing well either and so I was stuck with this situation where I really needed her to improve but I didn't know how to tell her. It wasn't good, and I realize now that even though I was trying not to hurt her feelings, I also was not helping her career. 

Take Action

  • Focus on actions and tie them to business outcomes. When giving feedback, focus on actions rather than personality traits. For example, rather than describing an employee as “helpful,” highlight a specific action: “Focusing the discussion in our weekly meetings on projected results was helpful in aiding us to hit our target for the quarter.” [BCG]

  • Train managers and create a culture of constructive feedback. Companies should train managers in how to develop employees and deliver feedback based on their strengths. The form that most interpersonal feedback takes — a conversation between two people — can trick us into seeing it as a product of the relationship when it’s equally (if not more so) a product of the surrounding culture. Even people who aren’t interested in or skilled at giving or receiving feedback will participate in the process (and improve) when they’re working in a feedback-rich environment. And the most ardent and capable feedback champions will give up if the organizational or team culture doesn’t support their efforts [BCG] [HBR]

  • Avoid "gendered language" that's almost always only used when describing women acting in stereotypically unfeminine ways. Words like bossy, pushy, abrasive, strident, and aggressive are used to describe women’s behaviors when they lead; words like emotional and irrational describe their behaviors when they object. In one study, "abrasive" alone is used 17 times to describe 13 different women. Among these words, only "aggressive" shows up in men's reviews: three times for 105 reviews of men, and two of those times were an exhortation to be more of it [Fortune]

  • When dealing with other's unconstructive feedback, request evidence and ask for comparison. If women are getting critical feedback about their leadership style, simply request evidence that their style has a negative effect on their job or the team. When pushing back against "gendered" language, ask, “Compared to whom?” Rather than claiming the feedback is sexist (which, of course, it might very well be), request a baseline of comparison. This can sometimes nudge the conversation past subjective assessments of “style” toward substantive outcomes [Fast Company]