Many managers and executives dread annual employee reviews as finding a way to gracefully critique someone isn’t easy. Most of the advice you’ll read on how to give your employees feedback is fairly standard — focus on the review, look them in the eye, and temper honesty with kindness. For the most part that advice should work for any manager, no matter what gender they are. But women have only really made noticeable strides in management over the last two decades. Today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 51.5 percent of management and related positions are filled by women. Female managers are by no means rare, especially in smaller companies, though this prevalence of female managers is more novel. But does this mean that women must contend with the expectations built off of decades of reviews led by male executives? To help answer this question, and aid those women in a newly won management or executive position, here is some advice built off of my own experience with employee reviews.
Know the Stereotypes
There is a lot of muck out there on women in management. Women, we are told, have an unbridled need for compassion and friendship that affects our ability to lead. These judgments are, of course, informed by the idea that a manager needs to be a stiff-backed, red-faced man in a thousand dollar suit — as if being a leader requires you to constantly bark at your employees. While it is easy to categorize women and men according to patterns in behavior, doing so only works in a broader context. When you work in an office with 15 other people, you cannot expect these stereotypes to hold. Never approach an employee review with gender at the forefront of your mind — how they perceive you, and how they expect you to act, is moot at this point. If you are in a management or executive position, you’ve shown an ability to lead. Be honest with yourself, and don’t feed into a stereotype.
Manage Your Expectations
Your employees aren’t supposed to be carbon copies of you or anyone else; they were hired because they have their own set of skills and interests. When you set a time for the review, look over their job description and consider whether or not they are meeting, or even exceeding, the expectations you have of them in light of that description. And never, ever compare your employees to each other. You might think that it is an easy way to give them a concrete example of what you want, but all it will do is foster resentment and competition. Reviews can be tough, but if you approach them in a focused and calm manner, they can also be very constructive.
Ask for Feedback
You should never see your employees as being underneath you. Your employees are your colleagues, and while it is your job to guide them, you should treat them as you would any other peer. They want to have a successful, rewarding career, just like you do, and a major part of that is having a competent, capable manager. So at the end of the review, ask them if they have any feedback on how you are doing. This will give your staff an informal opportunity to shoot a few tips your way so that you can hone your own management style. I’ve gotten some of my best management advice simply by talking to my staff.
Effective management is asexual, and is really more dependent on personal management styles than on gender. Still, I understand that women have only recently begun to fill management and executive roles. Many are still trying to find their voice in a role that, for centuries, only men were allowed to fill. But as long as we are aware of the stereotypes and baggage that come with being a woman in an executive position, we can fight against these arcane assumptions. So when review season hits, you should first and foremost respect your staff. Treat them well, and give them constructive advice, and they will see you as a strong, effective leader — regardless of gender.