Performance Management During the Pandemic: 'Give Women the Chance to Rise'

June 25, 2020 Aaron Kinne

5-minute read

The Double-Digit Shift report

“The current global pandemic is throwing an unforgiving light on the problem of inequality in the workplace,” writes Stacia Sherman Garr in an eye-opening new Workhuman®/RedThread Research report.

Drawing on data from Lean In, she notes that during the pandemic, more than 33% of women in the United States have had their income severely impacted as a result of layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts, or reduced hours. And for Black women, the picture is even bleaker – they’re twice as likely to have suffered a disruption to their income.


As the report points out, the repercussions extend beyond the workplace into the home where – according to recent data – some women are taking on an additional 20 hours of work each week. “As Facebook’s Sheryl Sandburg has pointed out, many American women already worked a ‘double shift’ at their day job, returning to a home where they were responsible for the majority of childcare and domestic work. Homeschooling kids and caring for sick or elderly relatives during the pandemic is creating a ‘double-double’ shift.”

Changes to the way women work

Many women are now forced to work in “chunks of time,” balancing work responsibilities with teaching, feeding, caregiving, and other domestic needs. As the report points out, this hasn’t necessarily impacted the quality of work – “in many instances, people say their outcomes are as good as or better than when they were in the office” – but it has dramatically changed the way work gets done.

For that reason, according to Stacia, performance management must change too.

The hurdles to equality could become higher

Stacia fears that many of the performance management hurdles women already face will only become higher in this new world of work. Case in point: Mothers are recommended for promotions less often than women without children. And as you might expect, mothers are also recommended less than men – both those with and without children.

She points to the notion of “passive face time” – those moments when people are observed working, but are not actually interacting. She notes those who have more passive face time tend to have higher performance management scores. “How will women’s performance scores be affected,” she asks, “when they may not be always accessible or ‘seen’ virtually?”

With this as a backdrop, the report goes on to ask several key questions:

  • How will the unconscious biases women already face become worse in a long-term, remote work model? How can those biases be mitigated?
  • How can we evolve our performance management practices and make them more equitable for women? 
  • How can leaders step up quickly and institute more progressive management practices – before less effective approaches become entrenched?

“The 3 Cs” – the levers of organizational performance

According to Stacia, the success of performance management is driven by “the three Cs”:

  • Culture
  • Capability of managers
  • Clarity

“Organizations that excel at these levers perform better,” she points out. “For example, organizations that scored high on culture were 32% more likely to experience high employee engagement and 97% more likely to experience high organizational performance.”

So how do these three levers impact women? And how can organizations make performance management more equitable for them – especially during the pandemic?

The report answers those questions by laying out actions that will help organizations excel at “the three Cs” – with special emphasis on practices that are particularly critical as women work remotely.

Breaking down “the 3 Cs”

For instance, “Culture” flourishes in an environment of fairness, feedback, and a focus on the future. To advance greater gender equity, companies need to focus on establishing consistent expectations, increasing feedback sources and frequency, and providing “gig-work” opportunities. 

“Capability of managers” relies on recognizing – and breaking down – visible, semi-visible, and invisible barriers. Organizations should examine the influence of bias is decision-making, advance diversity initiatives, and foster greater support through informal networks.

 “Clarity” is driven by clear goals, data-based insights, and an understanding of a well-communicated, long-term strategy. To advance this lever and better level the playing field for women, organizations should create clear, updated goals, provide hard data on progress, and connect women with senior mentors. 

An action plan for performance management equality

So where does an organization begin in its efforts to level the performance management playing field for women? According to Stacia, it has to start now – not in some undetermined post-pandemic timeframe. “There will be long-term implications of what is happening right now impacting women’s ability to rise,” she says. “If your organization truly values creating an equitable playing field for women, it should commit to addressing some of these issues.”

She provides self-assessment tools for organizations to see where they are presently – and set priorities for the next 6-12 months. She recommends that companies gather feedback from their leaders – both within HR and the broader business – to understand their perspective and get their buy-in. “To improve women’s experience of performance management, leaders must first understand there is a difference that needs to be addressed – and critically, needs to be addressed even under the current trying times.”

5 key findings

The report includes five key findings that can help shape your strategy as your organization overcomes the hurdles women face in the performance management arena:

  1. Modern performance management – while more effective than previous approaches – still underserves women.
  2. The distributed workforce created by the pandemic may amplify pre-existing gender biases– but there are concrete steps organizations can take to lessen the impact.
  3. Leaders must make performance management fairer by establishing consistent expectations for performance and promotion – especially when employees are working remotely.
  4. Organizations must improve and expand the feedback women receive – including more frequent feedback from more sources.
  5. Organizations need to “lean hard” into ensuring men and women advance at the same rate.

An opportunity for change

“We believe that organizations can make meaningful changes to level the playing field for women, even if they may not totally fix the system,” notes Stacia in her conclusion. “It is important that we continue to work toward the goal of creating stronger businesses and equal opportunity for all. COVID-19, with all the terribleness inherent in it, has also created an incredible opportunity to disrupt how we were doing work before.” 



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About the Author

Aaron Kinne

Aaron Kinne is a senior writer at Workhuman.

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