Ghostbusted: What It Means For Women (and Men) In Business

Nate Silver’s blog FiveThirtyEight recently did a post on Ghostbusters and how internet moving ratings are broken. It was a great piece,  breaking down the numbers in all sorts of interesting ways, and pointing  out the highlight of an earlier piece that male raters were more likely to rate women-centric shows lower  than their female counterparts were to rate male-centric content.

Nowhere was this clearer than in the IMDb feedback on the female-cast driven Ghostbusters revamp. According to the FiveThirtyEight research, prior to the movie even reaching theaters, over 12,000 users had submitted reviews.

Male reviewers outnumbered female reviewers almost 5 to 1, and rated Ghostbusters an average of 4 points lower (3.6 versus 7.7, respectively).

Over  and over again we see that men are weighing-in far more often, and far  more negatively, than their female counterparts when it comes to content  showcasing a predominantly female cast. So what is causing this and  what does it mean? The author, Walt Hickey,  has all sorts of thoughts on this and its significance for online  reviews, so I’ll leave that to him, but this data also provides great  insights for the world of business.

It led us to wonder, how cross  genre is this trend? Are men more harshly reviewing women in business  than they are other men? So we did a little research and found this  chart from a 2014 piece by Kieran Snyder in Fortune. Snyder collected 248 reviews from 180 people, 105 men and 75 women.

The difference in critical feedback was astounding, Snyder noted,

“Abrasive  alone is used 17 times to describe 13 different women…only aggressive  shows up in men’s reviews at all. It shows up three times, twice with an  exhortation to be more of it.”

Perhaps equally  interesting; however, is that Snyder found no difference in level of  criticism whether the reviewing managers were male or female. It appears  that different from online movie reviews, both men andwomen are more critical of women in business.

A separate Slate piece reviewed research from Stanford University that found that males  receive more actionable feedback during the review process than their  female counterparts. This means that men receive more useful reviews  that they can act on to take them to the next level. Again, the trend  arose regardless of the gender of the reviewing manager.

Oftentimes  with pieces like these the summary advice is to the afflicted  audience — what women, minorities or other affected classes can do to  reduce the biases they face. However, at Pluma our goal is to aid all employees and their colleagues in addressing  conscious and unconscious bias, and improving the workplace for  everyone. We recognize that if anything is going to change, all  stakeholders will need to get involved.

So instead we pondered  what managers, both male and female, can do in an environment like this  where negative (often unconscious) bias comes in frequently. We  recommend three critical actions:

  • Examine your language — practice both inside and outside the workplace. If you find yourself referring to Serena Williams as one of the ‘greatest female athletes of all time’, consider why not just ‘greatest athletes of all  time’. What does it mean when you say a female employee is ‘aggressive’  or ‘abrasive’ versus a male employee. Does the word mean different  things to you in different contexts?
  • Set the criteria beforehand — when  it comes to feedback, define success in advance and compare all  employees against that criteria. When there is something that can be  improved about what was achieved or how it was done, make sure to be specific and actionable.
  • Use development plans — once  you have given feedback, whether in a formal review process or in the  moment, create a development plan. A key piece of the Pluma process is the creation of a development plan with SMART goals and milestones. Being clear on end goals and the skills needed to  get there reduces the risk that future feedback will be anecdotal or  biased.

So there you have it, some steps to help work  towards cultivating greater self-awareness around feedback and bias. The  more we can be aware of our own biases and those of others, the more  likely we are to feel better and work better together.

Written by

Alexandra Connell

Alexandra Connell is CEO and Co-Founder of Pluma. Prior to starting Pluma, Alexandra held corporate roles across several industries including technology, biotech, and investment management in New York and London. During her role as Chief of Staff at biotech company Solazyme, Alexandra found inspiration for what would ultimately become Pluma. Shortly after IPO, the company was challenged with transition and change. Senior leaders were hired from outside firms. Emerging leaders, who had brought the company to IPO, felt alienated. To preserve a culture of innovation and flexibility, Solazyme needed to upskill and season its newer leaders - and fast. Engagement with content subscriptions was limited. There was significant pushback around the inefficacy and inconvenience of workshops and seminars. The one resource requested repeatedly was executive coaching, but this was simply too expensive and administratively cumbersome to provide across the board to those in need. Alexandra and her cofounder, Samuel Cabral, set out on a path to disrupt traditional leadership development. By leveraging technology, countless interviews with L&D professionals, and a network of thought leaders at Harvard, they developed a cost-effective and turnkey solution for developing leaders. By making executive quality coaching and professional development accessible more broadly within organizations, Alexandra leads Pluma`s mission to build the next generation of happy, inspired, and highly effective leaders. Alexandra holds an undergraduate degree in International Relations and Public Policy from Princeton University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

San Francisco, CA

Leadership DevelopmentDiversity and inclusion