The launch of our #FeedbackFirst campaign

What did you think and how did you feel the last time you were given feedback at work?  

Did you think it was of value? Perhaps you walked away wondering what exactly had taken place and whether you had been given any feedback on your actual performance? Were you given any directional guidance as to how to improve your performance that was linked to measurable outcomes, your leadership potential or did you feel it was all just a little bit too personal?

I have been fascinated with feedback from a very early age, both in terms of giving and receiving it. In my capacity as the MD of Lightbulb Leadership Solutions and my 10 years as a leadership strategist, speaker, succession expert and CEO coach, I have had the opportunity to witness first-hand the types of feedback being delivered and began to form a theory…

An idea began to form

I then began a period of conducting primary and secondary research on the types of feedback given to men and women and it culminated in my theory being proven correct.  So what was that theory I hear you ask?

Women receive different feedback to men and it is holding them BACK!


My research has shown there is a deep-seated stereotypical bias around feedback for women. Women, for example, receive feedback which focuses far more on their personal traits than business outcomes. My analysis showed that whilst 60% of performance analysis contained criticism for men that figure increased to a staggering 91 % for women. Furthermore, 76% of women are marked as ‘too aggressive' in performance reviews compared to only 24% of men. 

Vague Feedback is holding Women Back.

In addition to this, vague feedback is holding women back. What do I mean by this? When men receive critical feedback, it tends to be supplemented with additional skills development. So men are given the tools with which to grow and develop into their full leadership potential. Women all too often receive unhelpful comments such as “you’re doing a great job”. I have identified eight types of feedback and called this particular one “full-stop feedback”. This is tantamount to saying, ‘just keep doing what you’re doing we are not interested in un-tapping your full potential’. Sadly vague and unhelpful feedback is being used more extensively for female employees and this needs to stop.

The recent gender pay gap narrative has revealed some startling findings; not only do women fare worse than men when it comes to median pay in organisations but the gap truly widens when it comes to bonus payments. The recent publication of Goldman Sachs’ pay gap report showed a median UK gender pay gap at its international business of 36.4% for hourly pay and a whopping 67.7% median bonus gap. Particularly alarming when you consider that bonus is generally discretionary and performance related!

The point of all this is, that if women are not being given feedback that truly helps them develop their full potential and advance, then they are automatically at a disadvantage for their future career prospects and steps into leadership roles as well as their wealth potential. The alarming figure that two-thirds of pensioners living in poverty are women, is not one we should be proud of.

Neither is the pay gap purely down to the different roles women do from men in organisations (Ryan Air, for example, have a median gender pay gap of 67% which is a reflection of the gender imbalance of their pilots). The financial sector came out particularly badly in the recent pay gap publications. According to new data just published in the CA (the monthly magazine produced by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland), a survey of 1200 Chartered Accountants, working in all parts of the UK, revealed a median gender pay gap of almost 32%. This is both hurting business’ reputation and having an impact on talent attraction and retention.  

If there’s one thing we can do to change the dial on women’s futures in the workplace, it is to no longer accept ‘constructive criticism’ but instead insist on ‘development dialogue’
Fiona McKay