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Women in Leadership| Publications

Advancing Women In Australia: Eliminating Bias In Feedback And Promotions

March 2, 2017

Diversity is good for business. It is well established that a strong link exists between diverse organizations and better business outcomes, where gender balance is the yardstick for overall diversity.

Accessing the benefits of diversity demands that our organisations be meritocratic. Yet, defining who has merit and who does not without introducing subjectivity and bias remains challenging in practice. This is especially true when it comes to promotions and senior appointments.

A promotion should be based on an unbiased assessment of both an individual’s past performance and their future potential to meet current and future requirements. However, while past performance should be relatively easy to assess, evaluating potential is much more subjective and this is often where biases can cloud judgement.

It is therefore not surprising that creating a meritocracy and minimizing bias are often viewed as critical enablers of women’s progress into senior leadership. In our 2011 Bain & Company and Chief Executive Women (CEW) research, we asked what would be required for women to achieve equal representation in senior leadership. “Removing bias from recruitment and promotion processes” was one of the top three responses women gave, along with “visible leadership” and “creating working models that support men and women with family responsibilities.”4 Having addressed two of these responses in our 20145 and 2015 reports,6 we focused our 2016 survey of 4,481 members of the Australian business, government and not-for-profit communities on the role of bias in assessing performance. We anchored our survey in three fundamental questions:

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