Gendered White Lies: Performance Feedback is Upwardly Distorted to Women.

Posted: 17 Apr 2017

See all articles by Lily Jampol

Lily Jampol

Queen Mary University of London; London Business School

Vivian Zayas

Cornell University

Date Written: April 1, 2017


We tested whether people are more likely to positively distort feedback to women compared to men during direct performance feedback - a gendered “white lie” bias. While past work has found inconsistency in qualitative and quantitative evaluations of women compared to men, here, we examine the accuracy of feedback - whether given feedback matches a previously objective evaluation - as a function of recipient gender, in direct person-to-person feedback contexts. We find that people may be more likely to positively distort quantitative performance feedback to underperforming women and give them more positive qualitative feedback compared to underperforming men. In Study 1 we asked participants to guess the gender of an underperforming employee who had been given more or less truthful feedback. We found that people assumed that employees who had been told “white lies” about their performance were more likely to be women than men, establishing initial evidence of a “white lie gender bias.” In Study 2, in a naturalistic feedback paradigm, participants gave both quantitative and qualitative feedback to a male and a female writer directly, after making objective assessments of their work. We found that people upwardly distorted their original quantitative evaluations of women’s work and gave women more positive comments to women but not men, and did not appear to be aware they did so. In both studies, we also explored concomitant trait perceptions of feedback recipient. Accurate performance feedback is essential to worker development yet these findings suggest that women may be at a disadvantage compared to male colleagues if they do not receive the same quality of feedback.

Keywords: Gender bias, Feedback, White Lies, Lying, Equality, Organizations, Gender, Equality, Interpersonal decision making

JEL Classification: D23, C91, J16

Suggested Citation

Jampol, Lily and Zayas, Vivian, Gendered White Lies: Performance Feedback is Upwardly Distorted to Women. (April 1, 2017). Available at SSRN:

Lily Jampol (Contact Author)

Queen Mary University of London ( email )

Mile End Road
London, London E1 4NS
United Kingdom

London Business School ( email )

Sussex Place
Regent's Park
London, London NW1 4SA
United Kingdom

Vivian Zayas

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

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