The launch of the #FeedbackFirst campaign

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’

I am determined to redress the balance when it comes to gender inequality in the workplace, which is why I have launched my campaign #FeedbackFirst on International Women’s Day this year. Especially relevant in the year that mandatory reporting of gender pay came about in the UK and the centenary year of the first women receiving the right to vote.

I have been fascinated with feedback from a very early age, both in terms of giving and receiving it. 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 studies show 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.

I want to eradicate gender inequality in workplace feedback and un-tap the full potential of all employees, regardless of gender. It may well mean a radical overhaul of how feedback is delivered in organisations but this is a ‘win-win' scenario for both employers as well as employees. There is already research available that shows closing the pay gap, correlates to improved productivity and allowing people to develop to their full potential can only benefit the individual, an organisation and the wider economy. 

We must all take action to bring this issue to the top table as a business imperative issue and start to scope the solutions to be addressed, in order to eradicate unequal feedback towards women.

And finally, as a proud Mancunian women I am going to quote the words of a fellow Mancunian, who has inspired the worldwide movement of suffrage:

 “Deeds not Words”, Emmeline Pankhurst.

For more information on the outstanding work that The Pankhurst Trust delivers visit

Fiona McKay