The signals we give: Performance feedback, gender, and competition

76 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2023

See all articles by Alexander Coutts

Alexander Coutts

York University

Boon Han Koh

University of Exeter

Zahra Murad

University of Portsmouth

Date Written: November 16, 2023


Feedback is a vital tool used by organizations and educators to improve performance, spark learning, and foster individual growth. Yet, anecdotal evidence suggests that many individuals are hesitant to provide others with feedback. Moreover, gender biases may influence its provision, with consequences for the representation of women in leadership and competitive professions. We study feedback provision under different conditions that vary the precision and valence of performance signals, their instrumentality, and gender of the recipient. Our results reveal that a substantial degree of feedback is obscured. Moreover, negative feedback is more likely to be obscured from women in conditions characterized both by a lack of complete information about performance, and feedback that is not immediately instrumental for the recipient's decision-making. This effect is driven by male advisors. Our findings showcase how gender biases can arise in feedback provision, and highlight when these biases may be more likely to appear.

Keywords: Feedback provision, gender, belief utility, competitiveness, discrimination

JEL Classification: C90, D83, D91, J16, M54

Suggested Citation

Coutts, Alexander and Koh, Boon Han and Murad, Zahra, The signals we give: Performance feedback, gender, and competition (November 16, 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Alexander Coutts

York University ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3

Boon Han Koh (Contact Author)

University of Exeter ( email )

Northcote House
The Queen's Drive
Exeter, Devon EX4 4QJ
United Kingdom

Zahra Murad

University of Portsmouth ( email )

University House
Winston Churchhill Avenue
Portsmouth, Hampshire PO1 2UP
United Kingdom

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