When Performance Trumps Gender Bias: Joint versus Separate Evaluation

by Iris Bohnet, Alexandra van Geen & Max H. Bazerman

Overview — Gender-based discrimination in hiring, promotion, and job assignments is difficult to overcome. This paper suggests a new intervention aimed at avoiding biased assessments: an "evaluation nudge," in which employees are evaluated jointly rather than separately regarding their future performance. While joint evaluation is common for most hiring decisions, especially at the lower levels, it is rarely used when job assignments and promotions are being considered. The research shows that a joint-evaluation mode succeeds in helping employers choose based on past performance, irrespective of an employee's gender and the implicit stereotypes the employer may hold. While it is not always feasible to bundle promotion decisions and explicitly compare candidates, the research suggests that, whenever possible, joint evaluation would increase both efficiency and equality. Findings have implications for organizations that want to decrease the likelihood that hiring, promotion, and job-assignment decisions will be based on irrelevant criteria triggered by stereotypes. Key concepts include:

  • In addition to being a profit-maximizing decision procedure, joint evaluation is also a fair mechanism, as it encourages judgments based on people's performance rather than their demographic characteristics.
  • In experiments, employers tasked to choose an employee for future performance were influenced by the candidate's gender in cases where candidates were evaluated separately. In contrast, in joint evaluation, gender was irrelevant. Employers were significantly more likely to choose the higher- rather than the lower-performing employee.
  • Companies concerned about discrimination in these phases of employment might choose to review how, for example, career-relevant jobs are assigned and how promotion decisions are made.

Author Abstract

We examine a new intervention to overcome gender biases in hiring, promotion, and job assignments: an "evaluation nudge," in which people are evaluated jointly rather than separately regarding their future performance. Evaluators are more likely to focus on individual performance in joint than in separate evaluation and on group stereotypes in separate than in joint evaluation, making joint evaluation the money-maximizing evaluation procedure. Our findings are compatible with a behavioral model of information processing and with the System 1/System 2 distinction in behavioral decision research where people have two distinct modes of thinking that are activated under certain conditions.

Paper Information