Boys, Don't Cry: Gender Bias and Performance Reviews

Boys, Don’t Cry: Gender Bias and Performance Reviews

Men who cry during a negative performance review at work are more likely to receive lower performance evaluations, decreased assessments of leadership ability and more negative written recommendations, according to a new study by Eller College researchers.

The study, entitled “Boys, Don’t Cry: Gender and Reactions to Negative Performance Feedback,” was recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The study is the first of its kind to examine how crying during a performance review at work can impact both the employee and the supervisor who provided the negative feedback.

“For men who are expected to exhibit more dominant characteristics, crying is not an option,” said Aleksander Ellis, research director at the Eller College Center for Leadership Ethics. “When men cry, our results suggest that they are labeled as atypical, which has negative consequences for how others evaluate them at work.”

To examine how crying during a negative performance review impacts a supervisor’s perception of an employee, Ellis and his research partner, doctoral student Daphna Motro, presented four different review situations to 169 participants.

Each participant was shown a video of either a female or a male receiving a negative performance review. In half of the videos, the employee receiving the negative review cried as a result. After watching the video, participants were asked to complete a performance review, assessment of leadership capability and to write a letter of recommendation for the employee.

Study results showed that men who cried during the performance reviews were seen by participants as more atypical than the women who cried. In addition, the study shows the men who cried during negative reviews were more likely to receive negatively biased outcomes on their performance evaluations, perceived leadership capabilities and written recommendations.

When a woman being reviewed cried, it did not have a significant impact on her perceived performance or leadership capability or her written recommendations. 

“The overwhelming majority of research in the field of gender and diversity has focused on sexism in one direction – sexism that contributes to the plight of women,” said Motro. “While there may be fewer situations where men experience sexism, they do exist, as indicated by our results. We need to acknowledge that gender bias can harm men just as it can harm women.”