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Published on 24th November 2022

Performance reviews: Root out bias and build strong inclusive cultures


A few years ago it was common place to see a flurry of emails asking for 360 reviews, stakeholder feedback and a list of achievements for the year. There’s been a gradual shift away from this to more flexible and live performance review conversations over the past decade especially as Agile teams become more common place. The last few years, COVID accelerated remote and hybrid working – but is there still a place for formal year-end reviews? How can we make it an opportunity to improve diversity, inclusion and a more equal workplace?


Last year, CIO magazine ran an article on ‘How to make performance reviews meaningful’ https://www.cio.com/article/189446/how-to-make-performance-reviews-meaningful.html. HBR ran one on How One Company Worked to Root Out Bias from Performance Reviews (hbr.org)  which talked about 4 patterns of bias that affect evaluations.


So what can we take from these?


Our own WUN survey in Sep 2022 saw many respondents feel like there is a “Bias towards the capacity of a woman to take strategic decisions.”, and “Pigeonholing people instead of looking at the full range of skills.”


The year-end review is an opportunity to take an evidence-based approach to highlight bias, challenge beliefs (about us as well as our own beliefs of our capability, showcase what we have achieved and ask for what we need to set us up for success in the coming year. It’s also the perfect opportunity to have a discussion about what your aspirations are and break out of those pigeon holes.


I’d highly recommend reading the 2 articles and take 15 minutes afterward to jot down what actions we will take to encourage constructive scrutiny of our work cultures. In our WUN Survey “inclusion and diversity is talked about, not sure to what extent it’s actioned.” – this is the time to take action. In seemingly small ways that has big impact. It could be simple asking whether a comment is relevant to someone’s performance, whether that work is part of their objectives, whether you’d expect that behaviour from others in the team, or mentally checking we ourselves are giving balanced feedback. It could be just providing some validation to help someone feel like they belong.


A few takeaways from me:

  • Use this opportunity to ferret out bias and build a strong culture

Performance reviews are often rife with false expectations that affect the careers of the people on your team. According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), some ways this plays out is that stereotyped groups have to prove themselves over and over while white men are judged by their potential. Moreover, women must often walk a narrow tightrope of acceptable behaviours while men don’t, and mothers are assumed to have lost interest in their jobs when they haven’t. Check your own bias and weed it out, to the best of your ability.

  • Don’t shortchange the value of validation – celebrate each other’s achievements

We are living in strange, pressurized, and disruptive times. It’s possible that work has become an important focus, a stable place, a situation where people feel competent and needed

  •  A data-driven approach can deliver rapid concrete gains
  • “What we’ve found now that we’ve stripped away all the trappings of our fancy offices is that the thing millennials — and everybody else — want is to feel that they are engaged in something they care about and that they belong,”

If I learnt anything from Paul Fisher’s session on negotiation, it’s that in general “Women don’t ask”,  “Women tend to be more confident when advocating for others” and “men are more aspirational than women when asking for things” – so I’m reflecting on what I can ask for to set me and the wider team up for success, to aim high when asking and advocate for others – celebrate each other’s achievements.

What are your thoughts on how we can better use performance reviews? What have you seen in action that builds more inclusive cultures?

WUN advocate. Lillian Philip