Are Women Assessed On Performance And Men On Potential?



I am sure you have been reading a lot about how gender bias is all-pervasive. The fact that it clouds the thought process of even the most experienced managers and leaders, in organizations.; and that it sets in when an interview takes place or even a performance review. These issues are being now raised and spoken about more clearly. However, there is another key issue that is simmering below the surface and often gets overlooked, because it does not show up when immediate performance is being evaluated. Let me share a real-life example to give you an idea.

I was working in an organization for some years, when a new manager came in. He was extremely nice and approachable, and fair in his rating of performance, for all team members, irrespective of gender. But when it came to evaluating them for bigger roles from a succession planning perspective, he preferred to identify men rather than women for those roles. Because he actually believed that men had the potential to be in a long-term business role. At some inherent level, he felt that women will move to other things in life – marriage, children, maternity leave, child care and so on, so men were really a safer-bet.

A little while later he moved on, then a new manager came in. She evaluated all team members for a larger role, and I was selected for it immediately. My immediate reaction was that if my previous manager had realized that a woman employee had the potential, why did he not take the necessary steps for her career growth? Why did he allow his belief system or conditioning to impact his decision when it came to potential, when he was able to overcome it during performance evaluation.

I don’t expect to receive answers to these questions, but I do know many women go through this.

In some ways, it tells us that we are not able to manage a demanding work position or role, and life commitments. But men have the same commitments, and the same reasoning does not apply. It also tells us that we are not ambitious enough or involved in careers to the extent of trying to balance it. But men are assumed to have those attributed.

In some ways, it also tells us that we cannot achieve career heights that we want to, because we must allocate our efforts in various segments of life. But men are absolved from allocating the same effort to those segments.

In some ways, it tells us that we are excellent in our performance and good as we are, but we do not have the capability to become that and much more, in the future. And men can push their boundaries as much as they want. The organization will stand right behind them to support.

Therein lies our answer – organizations and managers have to go beyond being free of bias when it comes to interviewing and assessing performance for employees. The true test of being bias-free lies in having faith – that a woman employee who is as competent as a male one, is also as committed to her career and wants to achieve her aspirations, despite other life responsibilities.  Assessing her based on what she can actually become, with the right opportunities and organizational support, is the best way to recognize her potential.

By Simran Oberoi

Simran Oberoi is an independent HR Consultant in Bangalore, with HR Advisory, Knowledge Development and Research expertise of over 13 years, in Rewards & Compensation, Diversity & Inclusion, Talent Development, HR & Social Media. She has worked with consulting firms like Hay Group, Aon Hewitt and PricewaterhouseCoopers in the past, in India as well as Asia-Pacific leadership roles. Simran is also a keen baker – you can find her recipes at

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