The gender feedback gap

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In 2019, the gender pay gap in the UK was 17.3%. Put simply, this means women earned on average 83p for every £1 men were paid for the same job.

There are many reasons for this gap, but one uncovered in our recent research with employees could be related to feedback.

Knowing when you’ve done a good job, what you could improve, or do differently is an essential element in employee development. It guides behaviours, indicates areas of strengths and weaknesses, and empowers employees to take control of their careers.

Both employers and employees agree that relevant, timely and constructive feedback is essential for building a successful organisation. So, what would it mean if there was a gap in the way feedback is given and received?


Employees’ feedback experience

We asked 2,000 employees working in organisations with 50 or more employees about the feedback they receive. They were questioned on the amount and quality of the feedback received from line managers, peers, other managers, and direct reports.

From every one of these four groups, women received considerably less feedback than men. To highlight how significant the gap is, 43% of male employees received feedback from their line manager at least once a week compared to 29% of female employees.

This is a major difference, with men getting far more guidance on their performance and a much better indication of how to develop and progress.


Women missing out on recognition

As well as being a powerful tool for development, feedback is also a crucial part of employee recognition. These figures suggest women are missing out on this important source of encouragement and motivation, letting them know they are making a valuable contribution to the business. Without this knowledge, they may feel they don’t have the evidence required to demonstrate why they deserve a pay rise.


Women are not encouraged to offer feedback

It’s not just when it comes to receiving feedback that women are missing out. They also feel less comfortable about giving feedback to others than their male colleagues, as well as less encouraged to do so.

Forty-three per cent of male employees feel very comfortable giving feedback to their line manager and 34% feel encouraged to do so, whereas the figures for women are much lower. Only around a third (32%) feel very comfortable doing this and just over a fifth (22%) feel encouraged to let their line manager know how they’re performing.

These figures show that women’s voices are still being underrepresented in the workplace and many don’t feel like their thoughts or ideas are welcome. In these circumstances, it’s easy to see how this could be a root cause of the gender pay gap.


Women want more feedback and more training

The survey shows that a substantial number of women are dissatisfied with this situation and would like it to approve. Thirty-eight per cent would like to get feedback more often, with 15% stating that they don’t feel they get nearly enough.

This shows that women want more feedback than they are currently getting, but how can employers improve this situation? Here are some initiatives employers can introduce to ensure feedback is available to everyone in the workplace:

  • Make feedback a priority and ensure it comes right from the top. To be successful, it must flow both ways. Senior leaders who give and receive feedback frequently and openly will see this behaviour cascade through the organisation.
  • Build feedback into other company processes. This should start from recruitment and continue throughout an employee’s time within the organisation.
  • Encourage a “little and often” approach. Giving and receiving feedback shouldn't happen just once a year. Feedback should be something that happens on a daily basis.
  • Provide training on how to effectively give and receive feedback, making it a priority for all employees and encourage everyone to participate.

Roly Walter is the founder of performance management software provider Appraisd.

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