What It Means When Women in Tech Are Told They’re ‘Too Abrasive’ (Hint: It’s Got Something To Do With Sexism)
In a recent study by linguist and startup CEO Kieran Snyder, she examined the kind of feedback men and women receive at tech companies. Snyder asked men and women in the tech industry to send her their performance reviews. She received 248 reviews from 105 men and 75 women.
This is what she found: men and women receive different kinds of feedback. Women’s personalities were criticized much more frequently in performance reviews than men’s. Men were criticized for job performance, while women were criticized for not just their work output but for being ”abrasive" or having "the wrong tone". The results are so shocking, they seem skewed.
Men received comments like “There were a few cases where it would have been extremely helpful if you had gone deeper into the details to help move an area forward.”
While women received comments like “Your peers sometimes feel that you don’t leave them enough room. Sometimes you need to step back to let others shine.”
Words like bossy, 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. All of these words show up at least twice in the women’s review text I reviewed, some much more often. Abrasive alone is used 17 times to describe 13 different women. Among these words, only aggressive shows up in men’s reviews at all. It shows up three times, twice with an exhortation to be more of it.
This data validates women’s experience in STEM fields. They are stuck between a rock and hard place. Sheryl Sandberg tells them to Lean In, to speak up, and to be aggressive. While their peers and managers tell them to lean back, let others shine, and to be a little quieter.
This is just one example of how the culture in STEM fields turns women away. While other factors keep the pipeline leaky, company culture plays a huge role. Women should be encourage to speak up, to be leaders. They should not turned down when they act like one. It seems some tech companies have a long way to go to eliminate gender bias.
And please ladies, don’t be discouraged by this study. Women in tech and other STEM fields are some of the most intelligent, driven, and successful people I know. Even when they face daunting obstacles. If anything this study gives validation and motivation to the need to change the way women in STEM are treated. Remember: It isn’t just you. Other people go through this too. And it doesn’t have to be this way.
To learn more check out my episode on gender bias in STEM fields.
You keep doin’ you, STEM ladies. We need you.