Imagine a 10/10 employee—the perfect team member, a natural leader, someone who meets and exceeds expectations at every opportunity. What does that person look and sound like?
Now change the scale from 1–10 to 1–6. Picture a 6/6 employee. What sort of image appears in your mind?
Did you see 2 different people?
Better question: Was either of them a woman?
As silly as this mental exercise seems, it’s at the core of a recent, real-world study on a serious issue—namely, the gap between men’s and women’s performance reviews. Report after report has shown that men earn consistently higher ratings than women in supposedly objective, quantitative performance evaluations. Even when gender is the only attribute that differentiates him from an otherwise identical female colleague, a male employee is more likely to receive a 10/10 score.
Researchers Lauren Rivera and András Tilcsik sought to find out why. And believe it or not, they discovered that certain numbers, well, tip the scale.
Rivera and Tilcsik first looked at “a large, North American university that — for reasons unrelated to gender — changed its faculty teaching evaluation system from a 1-10 to a 1-6 scale.” In the university’s old 10-point system, they write, “men received significantly higher ratings than women in the most male-dominated fields.” After switching to the 6-point system, the university “entirely eliminated this gender gap.”