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Welcome & Request Feedback

Women Should Welcome and Request Feedback To Create More Opportunities

By: Belinda MJ Brown

Would you be surprised if I was telling you that people who receive the most feedback are the ones who will grow the fastest in their careers? Feedback lets them acknowledge their strengths, but also identify potential blind spots that might limit their career progression.

Currently in our society, men have more opportunities than females to receive feedback, which has led to a drastic imbalance in the workforce. Today, females in the C-Suite represent only 14.6% even though they hold 60% of undergraduate degrees and 60% of all master’s degrees.

In a recent article published in the Harvard Business Review, Shelley Correll and Caroline Simard say: “Even if women are well represented as middle managers, their numbers drop off when making the jump to VP-level executives. Why are women not rising to executive ranks? One reason is the feedback men and women receive along the way.” Among the many studies of the past decades, one struck me in particular. Research by City & Guilds Group and Business in the Community found that one-third of women do not receive feedback after an interview, while for men it is only one-fifth.

Another  study showed that the number of women who receive constructive feedback during performance reviews was 23% compared with men at 81%. In short, feedback is mostly ongoing for men. On the contrary, observations given to female employees is often limited to specific events, such as annual performance reviews or requests for promotions — and that impacts women’s careers in a very real way.

How The Culture Fostered in Companies Affects Feedback

Culture in most organizations is still modeled on masculine qualities and behaviors, which make it uncomfortable to provide feedback to women. Indeed, men who are still providing most of the feedback (and women who are trained to expect that) only reinforce business gender stereotypes. Likewise, in the instances when there is a female leader, women may have a difficult time receiving constructive feedback from her. Stereotypes cause companies to only accept certain types of behavior as “professional” — and often these are masculine behaviors.

While a man who exhibits anger and hits his desk with the palm of his hand is easily accepted, the tears of our female peers are seen as “emotional” or “inappropriate” at work.

One of my clients learned to accept her tears as a way of expressing her frustration, not as a weakness. Changing this perception often starts at the individual level and the day she finally understood where her tears were coming from, she was able to own her feminine leadership and rise beyond her own limitations, ask for regular feedback, and grow faster than ever. If women don’t accept their own feminine attributes, men never will either.

My experience as a corporate leader has been drastically different, and I realize I am probably an exception at this point. I was taught by men to ask for feedback constantly and therefore I grew faster than my female peers because I solicited it regularly. Many women still expect to be recognized for their accomplishments and will not think about asking for feedback. For my female colleagues and friends, I was “the lucky one” each time I was promoted or got a raise. It had nothing to do with luck, I was diligent as my male peers supported in promoting myself internally. Isn’t it critical for women’s success?

How Women and Men Can Change The Pattern That Could Lead To True Equal Opportunity

Change starts with acknowledging the problem. Here are the main reasons women aren’t getting the feedback they need:

  1. Leaders fear the feedback will not be well received by women.
  2. According to Corell and Simard’s research, observations given to women are mostly untied to business goals. Instead, they are tied to character, which does not bring value to the individual nor the organization.
  3. Both men and women reinforce gender stereotypes. Kieran Snyder’s findings were astonishing: 71% of women received negative feedback compared to only 2% of men, regardless of the gender of the person providing the feedback.
  4. Communication skills are not developed at all levels of an organization to foster a culture of constructive feedback in a diverse workforce. 

Ladies, if you want to advance your careers beyond a managerial role, it is time to reevaluate your way of approaching feedback. Namely:

  1. Ask for feedback tied to business goals; document strengths and blind spots in order to act on them. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but it means you are on the right track. Growth usually happens out of our comfort zone.
  2. Enter a mentorship and/or coaching relationship with a trusted and experienced individual. Avoid friends and family members as they might sugar coat you, or worse, influence you based on their own needs.
  3. Self-assess and ask for validation; list the top qualities you admire in a female leader and would like to develop. Be honest with yourself, and rank yourself on these qualities on a scale of 1 to 10. The next step is to conduct a reality check: ask a couple of trusted leaders for validation on your self-assessment.

Finally, men play a role here too. Here are a few things male leaders, husbands, and colleagues can do to change corporate culture:

  1. Don’t forget to ask permission. No one likes to receive unsolicited observations.
  2. Adjust your communication style. Be direct with female peers or direct reports while being more thoughtful, candid and curious about their career, strengths and blind spots. This will help women relate and engage in feedback activities more often, as well.
  3. Tune into your feminine traits so you can appreciate and recognize those in women counterparts or direct reports.

As a woman you have real opportunities to reach your career goals by owning your feminine leadership traits, educating your male counterparts to appreciate those traits, and finally, simply asking for feedback so you can identify potential limitations and opportunities to develop your skills and build confidence. With a new approach to rethinking about gender in the workplace, women will begin to meet men in senior and C-suite roles.

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1 Comment

  • Marge Dorsa / 19 November 2016 1:00

    Love your article. Feedback is important for me. It gives me perspective. It may not always be easy to hear, but it has helped me grow and find the best in me.

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