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Women in IP Virtual Coffee Date: Gender Bias in Performance Reviews 

I recently attended the Women in IP virtual coffee date discussing gender bias in performance reviews. It was a great chance to catch up with other members of the IP community, and the virtual format meant there were no distance restrictions between participants and no need to take time out from the work day for travel. The discussion had a relaxed feel with a few main questions covered:

  • Have you ever found it difficult to obtain feedback? Or (if in a managerial role) found it difficult to give feedback to some people rather than others?
  • When receiving feedback, have you found that it has centred around "soft skills" such as communication and/or has been non-specific?
  • What can we do (men and women) about it: i/ As recipients of feedback; and ii/ As providers of feedback?

Smiley coffeeWEBIt was agreed that feedback received can sometimes be vague and not helpful in providing indicators on how individuals can progress further in their career. Comments such as ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing’ albeit positive can actually be less well received than some constructive criticism. It can also be more difficult to gain feedback the further up the career ladder you are. This may be down to an assumption that Partners no longer need it when it comes to the quality of their work and there is more of a focus on how they handle managerial led responsibilities, which normally the Partner asks for directly anyway and isn’t organised by management/a third party. 

An interesting point made was that it can be difficult to read feedback how it was intended when delivered virtually in an industry where it is becoming more common to work from home and communicate through Teams or internal video conference. It was discussed that there is definitely an importance to take time to speak face to face and that ongoing feedback, rather than annual or six-monthly meetings, needs to be encouraged (which can be difficult when working from home is increasingly popular). It was highlighted that reviewers must be mindful of people’s commitments. Events being held at lunchtime or after hours can be difficult for some if they have other arrangements such as childcare, etc. 

An ongoing theme of the discussion was that personalities can perhaps be more influential in biases rather than gender. Not everyone is good at people management and we talked about how it could be beneficial for firms to recognise this and potentially give the responsibility of performance reviews to those who have expressed an interest in doing it, have a natural confidence for it, and then provide appropriate training. We discussed how restrictive feedback, i.e., not allowing room for comments or open communication channels can be problematic for career progression and that younger generations are more forthright in asking for feedback. They are not satisfied with vague comments but rather ask directly for detailed constructive observations on how they can improve.

All in all, it was an enjoyable and interesting break from the normal working day listening to perspectives from different levels of experience and backgrounds. Thank you to Michelle Montgomery and Wendy Peet for organising and I’m looking forward to attending the next event in the coming months. 

Phillipa Holland

Fellows and Associates

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