Inconsistent evaluations may affect promotion of women in law firms

Language of performance evaluations: gender-based shifts in content and consistency of judgment 

From Social Psychological and Personality Science

Partners in Wall Street law firms write equally nice things about the work of their male and female junior lawyers, but when they use hard numbers, they rate the men higher, according to this study. Researchers looked at the performance evaluations by mostly male senior lawyers, of more than 230 junior attorneys—35% women— working in a Wall Street law firm.

Independent experts, who did not know the gender of the person being written about, rated the competence communicated in writing. Women received significantly more positive feedback, yet the men with more positive words had higher numbers. For women receiving positive words it was completely uncorrelated with their numerical ratings.  Authors suggest that there was a male favoritism when using numbers.


Performance evaluations of male and female junior attorneys in a Wall Street law firm were analyzed. Male supervisors judged
male attorneys more favorably than female attorneys on numerical ratings that mattered for promotion but offered narrative
comments that showed either no sex effects or greater favorability toward women. Judgments of male attorneys were more
consistent overall than they were for female attorneys, and predictors of numerical ratings differed by sex: Narrative ratings
of technical competence mattered more for men than women, and narrative ratings of interpersonal warmth mattered more
for women than men. Open-ended use of positive performance words—the only outcome that favored women—did not translate
into positive numerical ratings for women. The data suggest subtle patterns of gender bias, in which women were harmed by
not meeting gendered expectations of interpersonal warmth but were less benefited than men by meeting masculine standards of
high technical competence.

Read this research for free

Article details
Biernat, M., Tocci, M., & Williams, J. (2011). The Language of Performance Evaluations: Gender-Based Shifts in Content and Consistency of Judgment Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550611415693

This entry was posted in Psychology, SAGE Insight and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.