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.