How To

March 24, 2023

How to use appraisals to retain female talent

Here's how you can create a fair appraisal process to retain female talent and help create a more equitable tech industry

An appraisal — also known as a performance review — is dedicated time, often once a year, for a manager to spend with their direct report(s) to evaluate their performance, provide feedback, discuss compensation and lay out goals for the future.

However, men and women often aren’t evaluated equally, says Stela Suils Cuesta Shihab. She’s a psychologist, PhD candidate in gender studies and cofounder of diversity, equity and inclusion consultancy Diversitude. Her expertise is how to retain and promote women in tech.

Women often leave the workforce because they don’t feel they’re being recognised or paid enough for their work, and aren’t promoted as often or as much as their male counterparts — appraisals deal with these issues. In Sifted's Startup Life newsletter, Stela discusses how to create a fair appraisal process to improve retention.


Analyse last year’s appraisals

Remove employee names but keep their gender. Here are a few examples of what to look out for when comparing them:

  • Do men get more constructive feedback and women get more critical feedback?
  • Do women receive more personal feedback about, for example, how they communicate or how they are perceived by others?
  • Is the feedback given to men more actionable — clear next steps, targets to hit and tasks to complete — than the feedback given to women?

Train your managers

Unconscious bias training can be a good first step to create self awareness, but it means nothing unless you have practical ways to implement the training. To start with, managers should:

  • Evaluate an employee against their job description, not gut feelings. What tasks and goals are assigned to the job and are they meeting them?
  • Look at all of the work an employee is doing. What labour are they carrying out that isn't part of their job description? This work — note taking, admin, organisation, training interns and other tasks that often fall on women — takes up time and supports the company, so it shouldn’t go unnoticed.
  • Be mindful of language. Managers need to understand how certain words can perpetuate harmful stereotypes. For example, bossy, abrasive and ruthless are words more often used to describe women and are rarely directed at men. They’re personal character attacks that often come without context or actionable feedback.

Support your managers

Don’t expect them to change overnight. Check in with them to see how they’re feeling, review the recent appraisals they have carried out and provide feedback on where they can improve. Give them a safe space to ask questions. If you — a founder, CEO or HR person — are also learning, bring in an inclusion expert to support the team through this process.

Create clear pathways to leadership

One of the biggest gender leadership gaps is the first promotion to manager — this is known as the “broken rung”. Once you identify this promotion gap, create pathways for women to reach leadership roles — do they need to achieve certain sales targets? Do they need to onboard a new employee? Whatever it is, make the steps to promotion transparent and measurable.

Assign an individual a project that puts them in the spotlight — don’t wait for people to put themselves forward. Everyone talks about mentorship for women but, often, women already have the skills, knowledge and confidence to carry out a role — they just need the opportunity.

Don’t wait for her to ask for a payrise

Although some research says women negotiate as hard as men, the common experience seems to suggest otherwise: men ask for higher pay rises than women (if they ask for one at all!). Cultural differences can also play a role here. Instead of waiting for women to bring up the topic of a raise, create a fair and transparent assessment where the pay rise amount is preset and awarded based on goals met. Make sure managers are clear on how it works. If you’re using payment bands, make sure these are reviewed for bias too.

Check in with your direct reports weekly

The annual appraisal is just the start of the conversation. Managers, meet with your direct reports weekly — whether that’s a formal 1:1 or a more informal set-up. Ask them how they’re doing, what support they need and where they want to go next. Ask them for feedback — is your communication clear? Do they feel heard, supported and motivated? How can you improve? Can they manage their workload efficiently? What’s blocking them? What would they like from you? This regular check-in will also help you spot when things aren’t right and provide personal support.

On the subject of...

👩🏿‍⚖️ There are not enough women in C-suite roles. Here’s how that can be fixed. One from the Sifted archives.

🫂 Retaining menopausal employees. A UK poll found that one in 10 women quit their jobs because of the menopause —here’s how to provide the support they need to succeed at work.

👩🏽 Life for female founders of colour in Germany.  A new report from Berlin-based non-profit Founderland tries to chart all the insidious ways that talent gets excluded. Here are Sifted’s key takeaways.


🚶🏽‍♀️ Taking parental leave as a founder. Check Warner — founding GP of VC fund Ada Ventures — outlines what needs to be done by a founder and their workplace to make the process of leaving (and coming back) as stress free as possible.

🌱 Raising seed funding exclusively from women VCs. It can cause issues in later fundraising rounds, where men tend to be the cheque writers, according to Harvard Business Review.

Anisah Osman Britton

Anisah Osman Britton is coauthor of Startup Life , a weekly newsletter on what it takes to build a startup. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn