Do Women and Men Differ on Work Related Abilities?

Do Women and Men Differ on Work Related Abilities?

Former Google employee, James Damore’s leaked memo has sparked a heated debate on the topic of diversity in the tech industry, particularly as it relates to women’s capacity for STEM careers. Many leaders are facing similar discussions in their own organizations and finding themselves untangling the various perspectives presented in the media. In this blog, my goal is to review the available scientific evidence on gender differences as it relates to STEM careers. Following this I will share recommendations for organizations looking to promote gender diversity.
The Chasm
There are three broad camps represented in this vigorous debate. The “biology” camp argues that men and women are biologically different with few social influences causing these variations. The “abilities” camp views women as lacking in abilities and interests that are required for careers in science and engineering.  The “societal influence” camp argues that rather than abilities, it’s the societal conditions that thwart women’s interests in STEM careers.  Each of these perspectives has received research attention making it possible to evaluate the arguments more objectively.

The Science
First, here’s a brief overview of the key perspectives on the root causes for gender differences. For each I highlight where the science supports and refutes specific claims.
Evolutionary theory: Proponents of an evolutionary approach suggest that selection leads to different adaptive behaviors in men and women.  They argue that thousands of years of biological programming explain why women have greater responsibilities in childbearing and rearing.   They suggest that men, on the other hand, evolved to ensure the physical survival of their mates and off-springs. As a result, their adaptive responses are geared toward survival and protection. Thus far, the science suggests only mixed support for this view.
Social-Cognitive learning theory: Originally proposed by Stanford’s Albert Bandura, this theory suggests that adults and children learn acceptable behaviors through ongoing reinforcements and punishments, both directly and by observing others. As social beings, humans are programmed to imitate others, particularly those in power.  By observing the action of powerful others, they learn to engage in socially desirable behaviors. This brings positive affirmation from others leading to increased confidence in oneself (self-efficacy). In the case of gender differences, there are culturally acceptable behaviors for males and females.  These are learned early in life by observing others and regulating one’s own behaviors to be more in line with acceptable norms.  The science for Social-Cognitive theory is very strong and supports the idea that traditional gender norms and social processes conspire to account for some of the gender disparity in traditionally male jobs.
Sociocultural theory: According to this theory psychological gender differences are the result of societal segregation of labor by gender. Historically, biological differences between men and women resulted in men doing work requiring strength and women being predominantly focused on home and family care. Studies on vocational interests show sizeable gender differences. Men tend to be more interested in things, and women more in people and relationships. These interests influence the career choices made by each gender. Men and women also pursue different career goals. Men favor opportunities that bring status, and success and allow for competition. Women favor opportunities that require working with people, caring for others, and attending to others’ needs.
Expectancy-value theory: This theory explains a person’s decision to pursue a challenging task. According to the theory, people pursue tasks they expect to succeed in (expectancies) and are aligned with their interest and perceived utility in achieving their goals (value). This theory has received considerable empirical support in explaining gender differences in the pursuit of activities that may be outside of the community’s stereotype for gender roles.

While these major theories help us organize our thinking about gender differences, what does the science say about specific capabilities of each gender?  Are they really substantially different, and if so are they the result of biological differences or influenced by socialization?
Verbal skills
Meta-analytic studies of US data show that boys and girls are very similar in reading comprehension, vocabulary, and essay writing. Girls score slightly better in verbal fluency. One large cross-national study found larger gender differences, also favoring girls. [4]  In general, experts are in agreement that gender differences in verbal skills are small or negligible.
Boys and girls are generally found to be similar in academic skills. Recent studies show some exceptions to this finding. A 2015 study investigating achievement in standardized tests found that girls in the United States scored substantially higher than boys in spelling and written expression. [6] This was true across all age groups. While the reason for these differences was not systematically studied, the investigators suggest it may be due to gender differences in processing speed (girls tend to be faster on simple cognitive tasks) and better self-regulatory skills which are important for improving writing quality.
Recent studies comparing math scores of boys and girls in the United States show no meaningful gender difference. It is interesting to note that gender differences were slightly in favor of boys in studies conducted in the nineties and the score difference was much greater for complex problem-solving. More recent data collected within the last decade shows the gap in complex problem solving has narrowed significantly and the differences are negligible. This provides some support for the changing societal expectation for gender-appropriate interests. [4]

Cross-national studies of math performance show gender similarities in most countries, however, in some countries the difference is greater. The sociocultural difference may account for these variations. Gender differences in math are highly correlated to factors such as a number of women in research roles at the country level, enrollment of girls in school, and also representation of women in parliamentary positions. [2]
Attitude toward math: Interestingly, even though there were gender similarities in math achievement, boys and girls varied significantly in their attitudes toward math. Boys, in general, showed greater confidence in their math abilities and also greater intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to do well. [2] Experts attribute these differences to girls having a greater need to please and seek the approval of adults.  As a result, they feel they are not meeting the standards set for them and feel less confident about their own performance.

Spatial skills
While men and women score similarly in verbal and math skills, women tend to have lower spatial skills.  This specifically refers to skills in mentally rotating objects which is important for success in many engineering disciplines.[4] On a positive note, studies show that training can lead to significant improvements in this skill for men and women. There is also evidence that playing video games can improve spatial skills.

Studies based on the big five frameworks show that men and women score similarly on consciousness, one of the biggest personality-based predictors of job performance. [3] Men score slightly higher on assertiveness. Women tend to be more anxiety-prone and are significantly more agreeable, particularly in aspects related to nurturing. However, these differences were largest in the US data but not supported in data from other parts of the world. For example, Black South African women scored similarly to men on anxiety proneness and agreeableness. The current understanding of gender differences in personality is mixed. [4]

Interests and Vocational preferences
In studies looking at work-related interests, the studies have found sizable gender differences. In particular, men prefer working with things, and women prefer working with people. Even when women select STEM careers, they tend to prefer occupations that offer more options for interaction with people, such as in biological science, medicine, Psychology, and Social Sciences. [7]

Women tend to endorse communal goals more than men, which drives them to select careers that are more helping and altruism-focused. In general, men tend to endorse agentic goals.  This causes them to favor careers where they can acquire power, achieve, and compete. The pursuit of agentic goals is also associated with an interest in STEM careers.  The pursuit of communal goals is associated with careers preferred by women such as nursing, kindergarten teacher, human resources, and education. Such differences in preferences are cited as reasons why women don’t prefer STEM careers.  In support of this claim, there is some evidence showing that women opt out of STEM careers more often than men. [1]

What Does it all Mean?
These findings are often cited as the main reasons why women are underrepresented in STEM careers. However, it is important to note that vocational interests can be influenced by parental expectations and societal values. Additionally, interests tend to stabilize toward the end of high school and peak in college. To close gender differences in STEM careers, efforts must begin early when children start to understand role expectations. Furthermore, it is insufficient to focus attention on recruiting more women in the workplace. Such efforts must be coupled with job design efforts where STEM careers are designed to appeal to both, those driven by the pursuit of agentic goals (e.g., promoting speed and profitability) versus those who prefer communal goals (e.g., betterment of others).

Based on current scientific understanding, it is clear that the capability differences between men and women are complex and do not favor any particular gender.  At the same time, there is evidence pointing to the importance of nature and nurture in shaping vocational preferences and job interests. For organizations looking to create gender parity, an exploration of the difference between men and women is less useful.  It may be more fruitful to explore why women are less likely to choose, pursue, and stay in STEM careers. Similarly, it is worth investigating why men are less likely to work in more female-centric careers such as nursing and education. Addressing these challenges is advantageous to both business and society. About 57% of recent graduates with a bachelor’s degree are women, accounting for a large portion of the incoming workforce. Organizations that aspire to gain a competitive advantage in a tight labor market can stand to gain by attracting a diverse candidate pool. When more women are employed in higher-paying roles, it proves advantageous to the economy and society.

According to the most recent National Science Foundation (NSF) statistics, female enrollment in STEM bachelor’s programs is failing. In the US, enrollment of women in undergraduate Computer Science programs fell from 25% in 2004 to 18% in 2014. A similar decline was observed in Math and Statistics programs where women enrollments dropped from 46% in 2004 to 42% in 2014. This decline is rather puzzling given the increase in gender parity in math scores.  Sociocultural factors may be a key factor in explaining this decline. In the NSF survey, women select “family” as the most frequent reason for not working.  This was closely followed by “job not available” as a leading reason. What these responses suggest is that women continue to bear the primary responsibility for child-rearing and eldercare.  Another cause may be that women are more likely to be paid less than their husbands leading to fewer economic benefits for the family. In fact, the 2015 US Census Bureau statistics show that women made 21% less than their male counterparts. Furthermore, women tend to be over-represented in jobs with lower median incomes. All these factors likely contribute to women deprioritizing their careers to ensure at least one member has a stable and rewarding career. The lack of female role models in successful positions may be an additional factor influencing women’s career decisions. These arguments reveal a broader set of inter-mingled challenges that go beyond the gender differences debate.. Therefore, single solutions such as attracting more women into STEM careers may only be minimally effective in creating gender parity. What’s required is a multi-pronged approach that addresses some of the systemic root causes leading to gender inequality..

What can Organizations do?
1.  Encourage Men and Women to pursue careers outside of traditional norms (e.g. women in STEM and masonry; men in nursing).  This requires exposure to a wide variety of career options long before people are ready to enter the workforce.

  • To influence career choices at a younger age, organizations can partner with K-12 educational institutions to present more gender-neutral role models, for example, women in STEM careers such as astrophysics and aeronautics.  It is important that boys, girls, and parents are exposed to these opportunities to minimize gender stereotyping.
  • Develop career resources that appeal to broader interests and goals. For example, emphasize how careers in technology support relational goals, as in the importance of teamwork and managing social relationships. Highlight how better technology is required to advance health and well-being as opposed to faster machines and increase revenue.
  • Organizations can also offer to mentor to women after they have begun their STEM education. This will likely ensure increased retention of women in STEM careers, as well as successful completion of their degrees.

​2.  Ensure increased representation of women in candidate pools for STEM careers. This requires long-term investment with academic institutions and affinity groups.  It is also important to design talent acquisition processes that are evidence-based, one that minimizes biases and promotes accurate, fact-based decision-making.

3.  Design jobs such that they are enriched with tasks that are matched with each gender’s preferences. Conduct studies to minimize stereotyping in role requirements (e.g., preference for males, unnecessary physical requirements) or foster conditions that are unwelcome toward women (e.g., the tradition of visiting strip clubs after winning a big deal).

4.    Provide men and women opportunities to advance their capabilities, particularly toward closing gaps, overcoming weaknesses, and opportunity to stretch through challenging assignments.  Many organizations utilize a strengths-based approach to development.  While seeming a good idea, it may inadvertently minimize opportunities for women. This is most likely in situations where women need to address a skills gap that is not their natural strength. Consider, for example, technically skilled women aspiring for a promotion to the management ranks. Assume the higher-level position require demonstrating a competitive spirit, generally a male attribute.  Under a strength-based development strategy, she may never have the opportunity to develop this attribute and remain disadvantaged unless the role requirements are changed.

5.    Finally, create an organizational culture where there is an expectation to be mindful of one’s actions and the impact they may have on others. This is called perspective-taking. Perspective-taking exercises have been found to promote reflection and reduce bias.  Furthermore, it engenders feelings of camaraderie with people of different backgrounds leading to a more inclusive workforce.

There you have it, a summary of the science behind gender differences and their impact on STEM careers.  Hope the recommendations are useful in furthering your organization’s diversity agenda.


  1. Diekman, A. B., Brown, E. R., Johnston, A. M., & Clark, E. K. (2010). Seeking congruity between goals and roles: A new look at why women opt out of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. Psychological Science21(8), 1051-1057.
  2. Else-Quest, N. M., Shibley Hyde, J., & Linn, M. C. (2010). Cross-National Patterns of Gender Differences in Mathematics: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological bulletin136(1), 103-127.
  3. Feingold, A. (1994). Gender differences in personality: a meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin116(3), 429.
  4. Hyde, J. S. (2014). Gender similarities and differences. Annual review of psychology65, 373-398.
  5. Lubinski, D. (2000). Scientific and social significance of assessing individual differences:“Sinking shafts at a few critical points”. Annual review of psychology51(1), 405-444.
  6. Reynolds, M. R., Scheiber, C., Hajovsky, D. B., Schwartz, B., & Kaufman, A. S. (2015). Gender differences in academic achievement: is writing an exception to the gender similarities hypothesis?. The Journal of genetic psychology176(4), 211-234.
  7. Su, R., Rounds, J., & Armstrong, P. I. (2009). Men and Things, Women and People: A Meta-Analysis of Sex Differences in Interests. Psychological Bulletin135(6), 859-884.
  8. World Economic Forum. 5 charts that illustrate the current US gender gap. Retrieved from
The Unlikely Leader Behavior That Drives Team Performance

The Unlikely Leader Behavior That Drives Team Performance

Ask someone to describe the characteristics of an effective business leader and you are likely to receive an answer that includes self-confidence, dominance, toughness, decisiveness, fearlessness, drive, and accomplishment. In fact, many executive recruiters look for these characteristics when selecting leaders for all levels of their organizations. But do these behaviors make for a more effective leader? Do these behaviors positively impact team performance? A study conducted this past year suggests that an unlikely leader behavior may yield better team and organizational outcomes: that behavior is humility.

 Humility is a misunderstood trait often associated with weakness in the United States. Psychology, however, defines humility as an attribute that occurs in a social context, and it is characterized by a willingness to view one’s own strengths and weaknesses accurately and to judge others’ strengths and shortcomings accurately as well. Being humble also means being teachable and open to growth experiences.[i]

 A leader who demonstrates humility will draw focus to others’ strengths, encourage others to share their perspectives, possess a willingness to acknowledge his/her own limitations, and support others’ growth and achievement. Furthermore, a humble leader will inspire follower loyalty and commitment,[ii] reinforce job satisfaction, work engagement, and employee retention,[iii] and counter the negative effects of leader narcissism, leading to more positive follower outcomes.[iv]

A non-humble or authoritarian leader, in contrast, will avoid all appearances of being weak. He/she will be over-confident and self-righteous, will not publicly acknowledge mistakes, and will seek personal status above the status of his/her team. These behaviors are contagious and will create teams of competitive individuals vying for individual status instead of focusing on achieving the goals of the team.[v] How does this leader behavior impact team performance?

 Last year, a study examining the effects of leader humility on team performance was conducted by Bradley Owens and David Hekman.[vi] Using data from 607 subjects organized into 161 teams, this study induced humility in a laboratory setting, in a longitudinal lab study across six weeks, and in a field study completed in a health services context. Participants in all three studies completed tasks and then rated the humility of their leaders, their teams, or both. The results of this research showed that leaders’ humble behaviors were contagious and that leaders modeling humility inspired team members to be humble as well. In the end, the teams led by the humble leader performed better on all their respective tasks. It is tempting to view these results as representing a best-case scenario that can only exist in rare settings; but the results of each of the three studies augmented one another to demonstrate that these results are consistent across different types of settings and across different spans of time.

Humble leaders, then, contribute to better team performance. This is not a surprise, but how do they do this? Previous research on leadership identified that leaders influence team member social behaviors by modelling the very social behaviors they hope to instill.[vii] Because followers often imitate their leader’s behaviors, a humble leader is more likely to develop humble followers. Thus, when leaders admit their own limitations and mistakes, allow themselves to be taught rather than do most of the teaching, and draw attention to others’ contributions and strengths, they reinforce a cooperative, others-oriented norm of team interaction and they emphasize the value of collective striving over personal status seeking. Furthermore, the norm of reciprocity infers that when a person receives positive feedback about her strengths or when she is being listened to, she would be more likely to respond in the same way.[viii]

While similar concepts, humility differs from transformational leadership. The main difference between the two is that humility can be imitated by followers, whereas critical dimensions of transformational leadership such as idealized influence, inspirational motivation, and intellectual stimulation cannot. Leader humility’s main influence is through the spread of the behaviors themselves, as teams will emulate the leader’s cooperative behaviors and place the goal of the group over self-promotion. Transformational leadership, however, succeeds most when a new compelling vision is needed, or when “extreme challenge, stress, and uncertainty” arise.[ix] Leader humility, in contrast, may be more beneficial to team effectiveness during everyday challenges when the team is faced with moderate amounts of challenge, stress, pressure, or threat.

The good news for leaders and organizations is that humble behaviors can be developed through training and practice. In addition, humility can be used as a selection criteria for hiring leaders or employees at any level within the organization. Developing humble leaders begins with organizations adopting the value of humility and exhibiting that value within their corporate culture. Leaders should focus on cooperative rather than competitive interactions with their team members. Leaders should also emphasize the performance of the team over and above his/her own performance. In adopting the value of humility, companies will be able to attract and retain humble leaders. Furthermore, overall employee retention will improve because technically savvy leaders who are not great with people will no longer drive the best employees away.


[i] Owens, B. P., Johnson, M. J., & Mitchell, T. R. (2013). Expressed humility in organizations: Implications for performance, teams, and leadership. Organization Science, 24: 1517–1538.

[ii] Basford, T. E., Offermann, L. R., & Behrend, T. S. (2014). Please accept my sincerest apologies: Examining follower reactions to leader apology. Journal of Business Ethics, 119: 99–117.

[iii] Owens, B. P., Johnson, M. J., & Mitchell, T. R. (2013). Expressed humility in organizations: Implications for performance, teams, and leadership. Organization Science, 24: 1517–1538.

[iv] Owens, B. P., Wallace, A., & Waldman, D. A. (2015). Leader narcissism and follower outcomes: The counter- balancing effect of leader humility. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100: 1203–1213.

[v] Beersma, B., Homan, A. C., Van Kleef, G. A., & de Dreu, C. K. W. (2013). Outcome interdependence shapes the effects of prevention focus on team processes and performance. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 121: 194–203.
Owens, B. P., & Hekman, D. (2012). Modeling how to grow: An inductive examination of humble leader behaviors, contingencies, and outcomes. Academy of Management Journal, 5: 787–818.

[vi] Owens, B.P., & Hekman, D.R. (2016). How does leader humility influence team performance? Exploring the mechanisms of contagion and collective promotion focus. Academy of Management Journal, 59(3), 1088-1111. doi:10.5465/amj.2013.0660

[vii] Dragoni, L. (2005). Understanding the emergence of state goal orientation in organizational work groups: The role of leadership and multilevel climate perceptions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90: 1084–1095.
Naumann, S. E., & Ehrhart, M. G. (2005). A unit-level perspective on organizational citizenship behavior. In D. L. Turnipseed (Ed.), Handbook of organizational citizenship behavior: 143–156. New York, NY: Nova.

[viii] Cialdini, R. B., Vincent, J. E., Lewis, S. K., Catalan, J., Wheeler, D., & Darby, B. L. (1975). Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: The door-in-the-face technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31: 206–215.

[ix] Bass, B. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1993). Transformational leadership and organizational culture. Public Administration Quarterly, 17: 112–121.

Should Facebook Data be Used to Make Hiring Decisions?

Should Facebook Data be Used to Make Hiring Decisions?

​Companies are looking for ways of implementing popular technology to aid them in the employee selection process. One popular trend is to use social media sites (e.g., LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) as a tool for attracting and researching potential candidates. A senior manager for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the United States reported that approximately 75% of recruiters across multiple industries are required by their firms to conduct online research of job candidates, and more than 70% of recruiters state that they have rejected candidates based on the material found on social media websites.[i] A study of 2,600 hiring managers conducted in the United States found that 45% of them searched social media sites for information on job applicants.[ii] Frequent updates to user privacy settings on social media platforms (especially on Facebook) have made gaining access to candidates’ personal information much easier for prospective employers. This ease of access and ubiquity of use on the part of recruiters makes an applicant’s ability to promote himself/herself well on social media “a new job hurdle.”[iii]

Besides posing potential problems for job applicants, searching a candidate’s social media profile presents organizations with potentially damaging consequences. First, much of the information uncovered by recruiters from looking at social media profiles is not job-related. For example, one’s age, hobbies, interests, affiliations, religious views, political leanings, and marital/relationship status all appear on one’s Facebook profile, but have very little to do with a person’s ability to perform most jobs. Using much of the above information for employee selection is considered illegal in most states.

business-plan-social-media-smallNext, using Facebook and other social media sites to predict job performance doesn’t work. Last year, a group of industrial-organizational psychologists conducted a study in which they had staffing specialists and hiring managers from multiple organizations view and rate Facebook profiles of potential applicants to their respective organizations.[i] The ratings of these recruitment professionals were then compared to performance evaluations of each applicant completed by each applicant’s current supervisor to determine if there was a correlation between an applicant’s predicted and actual performance. The overall finding of this study was that recruiters’ ratings of applicants were not related to supervisors’ ratings of applicants and thus did not predict applicant job performance. What’s more, recruiters tended to prefer White females above all other subgroups, posing serious legal and ethical problems for organizations. Until additional research can be conducted on ways to effectively use social media in the selection process, organizations should discontinue using sites such as Facebook to search for information on job candidates.


[i] Seibert, S., Downes, P. E., & Christopher, J. 2012. Applicant reactions to online background checks: Welcome to a brave new world. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management, Boston.
Sinar, E. F., & Winter, J. 2012. Social media and selection: How on-line information helps and hurts your hiring process. DDIDirections, 1-9. Retrieved from,0

[ii] Stamper, C. (2010). Common mistakes companies make using social media tools in recruiting efforts. CMA Management, 84(2), 12-14.

[iii] Preston, J. (2011, July 20). Social media becomes a new job hurdle. New York Times. Retrieved from

[iv] Van Iddekinge, C.H., Lanivich, S.E., Roth, P.L., & Junco, E. (2016). Social media for selection? Validity and adverse impact potential of a Facebook-based assessment. Journal of Management, 42(7), 1811-1835.

Lessons on Courage and Leadership from the Winners of the Nobel Peace Prize

Lessons on Courage and Leadership from the Winners of the Nobel Peace Prize

Malala Yousafsai recently received the Nobel Peace Prize at the young age of 19 year for standing up against the Taliban and promoting education of girls and children. What can we learn about corporate leadership from Malala’s approach? In this blog post, HCG President and Founder, Dr. Shreya Sarkar-Barney shares a brief analysis.
This week we saw examples of great leadership recognized with well deserved awards.  Malala Yousafsai, who was shot by the Taliban for promoting education for girls, has been outspoken about the right of women and young girls.  Last week she received the Nobel Peace Prize at the young age of 19 year for standing up against the Taliban and promoting education of girls and children.
Despite continued threats to her life, she has eloquently shared the plight of the lesser sex in eminent forums like the UN.   Her efforts have drawn world-wide attention and support.  For someone who grew up in a remote region of Muslim fundamentalist controlled Pakistan, it is remarkable to see such unusual display of courage, fortitude and leadership. What about Malala and her situation enable her to display such extraordinary leadership?  Are there lessons for employees in organizations?

Here’s three lessons on leadership from Malala:

  • When there is a choice to do nothing or speak up against injustice, we need to be able to conceptualize the upside and find the courage to speak up against the wrong doings toward the voiceless.
  • We need to reflect on what we care about the most (our platform) and stand for the rights of others in similar situation, who do not have the right or the freedom.
  • Many incorrectly assume that next steps are clear to those who care.  Incorrect. Create a rallying force for change and have a clear call to action.

Follow these links to listen to Malala’s eloquent speeches

  • Malala’s extraordinary speech to the UN
  • Malala’s speech after learning about the receiving the Nobel Peace Prize
  • Company Ratings on Social Media Should you Trust Them

    Company Ratings on Social Media Should you Trust Them

    For job prospects, social media sites such as Glassdoor and CareerBliss have become go-to places for company reviews. How much should you trust the company ratings on these sites? Our analysis shows not much. In this blog, HCG research consultant, Izabela Widlak, reveals what she uncovered.

    In the case of concerning reviews about your organization or its practices, investigate the reported problem and its root causes.  While few negative comments in the midst of positive reviews aren’t likely to do much harm, many negative comments may indicate that there is a greater problem that has to be repaired. For example, repeating comments about lack of opportunities for development may indicate that a company should invest more in training, on-the-job developmental opportunities, or mentoring and coaching.  While negative reviews indicate there may be a problem, they are unsubstantiated claims and do not necessarily provide an indication of how widespread the problem is likely to be. Have a qualified talent management practitioner conduct a full-blown assessment. Analyses of this type are especially worthwhile when the organization has challenges with hiring or retaining high-performing employees.  When claims are carefully investigated and addressed, it becomes the best measure to prevent negative feedback in the future, as well as increase organizational effectiveness. One option is to openly share on the company’s career site how the company is addressing concerns highlighted by ex-employees. More often than note candidates will appreciate the transparency believe the company is trustworthy.

    In the quest to learn from bad reviews, don’t forget to learn from the positive ones. Affirmative or unexpected positive reviews can be flattering, but more importantly, they may allow the organization to learn about its strengths and about the aspects of the employment brand that have been valued by employees.  Again, communicate this on your careers site.

    Good and Bad Reviews are Indicative of Issues Needing Attention

    Recent work in developing our Talent Acquisition course led me to research how companies manage their social media presence.  What I uncovered was shocking but sadly true.  Sites such as Glassdoor, CareerBliss, and, provide employees and ex-employees an online venue to publicly vent about their employer. With just the click of a mouse job prospects and employees can gain access to a plethora of information including salary ranges, interview questions, and insider information on what it’s like to work for the organization. Unlike in our parent’s generation, a job candidate can simply avoid bad employers by paying attention to these ratings.  So how accurate are such social media reviews and ratings?  Let’s find out.

    While researching how companies manage publicly available information that might affect their image as a great place to work, I was in for a surprise.  My research led me to reports by former employees complaining about their well-written negative reviews being taken off Glassdoor.  Some even reported seeing an influx of positive reviews and ratings within a short period of time which immediately increased the overall rating.  My curiosity intensified, as I dug a little further I learned about companies in the business of so-called “reputation management”.  They claim they can help find loopholes on these social media sites and can remove or minimize the impact of potentially damaging information.  I also read about a case where a large retailer encouraged its employees to share positive stories about the organization on Glassdoor.  This apparently backfired and is speculated to have instead led to a flooding of negative stories.

    As Industrial-Organizational psychologists we are concerned both with the effectiveness of practices organizations pursue and their effects on employees. Our analysis shows organizations stand to lose more than gain by manipulating their online ratings.  Potential job candidates are best served when they have honest and truthful information about the job and the company before they accept a job offer.  This ensures that candidates accept offers based on fit, which ultimately contributes to greater engagement, higher retention, and better financial outcomes for the organization.  Based on this perspective, it is hard to imagine why organizations might pursue any of the practices described above.  To help organizations manage their employer brands here are some evidence-based recommendations.


    Be Authentic

    Be authentic in how you handle the information that is out there about the company.  Many potential job applicants tend to read the reviews with the grain of salt anyway and they do notice when positive reviews are contradictory to most other reviews. Therefore do not ask current employees to write positive reviews and do not write fake positive reviews to offset the negative feedback.  Such actions are more likely to backfire and do more harm than good.

    Be aware that some job candidates may inquire about the negative reviews during the hiring process.  Therefore, be ready to honestly address questions and explain how the company is managing the issue.   In fact, it is a good practice to allow job candidates an opportunity to ask hiring managers ‘clarifying’ questions.  Studies show that such practices improve perceptions of trustworthiness.

    Invest in Evidence-based Integrated Talent Management Practices

    While some solutions have appealing short-term gains, only evidence-based practices can drive long-term value.  When organizations invest in high-performance work practices, such as the use of formal job analysis, pay for performance, pay for skill acquisition, training, and performance management there are resulting gains in individual performance and financial success of the organization. This in turn makes the organization a good company to work for and is likely to drive favorable online reviews.

    Use Employer Profiles to Manage the Organization’s Online Presence

    Creating an employer brand that is centered around the company’s culture is easier than manipulating online reviews and ratings.  Multiple social networking sites allow doing this for free.  One of the most credible is the professional networking site, LinkedIn, where company news and activities can be shared with active and passive candidate pools.  Additionally, Websites such as Glassdoor allow creating a free employer profile where companies have full control over the information shared. A strong community of employees that lives by the values of the organization can attract other great employees and also customers.

    In conclusion, learning from current reviews, being authentic, investing in high-impact evidence-based practices, and using social media to engage employees, is more likely to create and sustain an excellent employer brand than any other short-term fixes that some companies are apparently resorting to.

    Building a high-performing organization and a great employer brand is an ongoing process and takes time.  However, it is something that organizations need to embrace to realize great benefits.


    1. Breaugh, J. A., & Starke, M. (2000). Research on employee recruitment: So many studies, so many remaining questions.  Journal of Management, 36(3), 405-434.
    2. Cascio, W. F. (2010).  Managing human resources: Productivity, quality of work life, profits (8th ed.).  Burr Ridge, IL: Irwin/McGraw-Hill.
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