An employee’s gender influences how managers evaluate both their past performance and their potential for advancement, with female employees seen as having less ability but more potential, according to a new study based on accounting information.
The study, which appears in the summer issue of the American Accounting Association’s Journal of Management Accounting Research, looked at how accounting information is used to inform employee evaluations. A pair of researchers, Miami University accountancy professors Anne Farrell and Michele Frank, examined whether supervisors interpret and use the same accounting information differently when appraising the potential of subordinates of different genders. They found that supervisors’ beliefs about their subordinates’ abilities in their current positions were lower for female employees than for male subordinates.
“We wanted to see whether the gender of an employee influences how a manager interprets information about the employee’s potential and past performance,” Frank said in a statement.
The researchers recruited 160 experienced business professionals to serve as study participants. They were split into groups. Two groups were given identical information about a high-performing fictional employee and asked to assess the employee’s performance and potential. For one group, the employee had a female’s name and image, while the second group was given a male’s name and image.
The assessments of male and female employees were found to differ significantly. High performance in male employees was attributed more to their ability, whereas high performance in female employees was attributed more to their luck or effort.
The researchers concluded that attempts to promote women could backfire in corporate culture if they’re widely believed to have less ability, and that points to the need for improvements in corporate equity programs.
“This is important because accounting information informs employee evaluations, and gender should not influence how people interpret accounting information,” Farrell said in a statement. “If gender stereotypes are influencing professional decisions, that’s bad for both employees and companies.”