When Accomplishments Come Back to Haunt You: The Negative Effect of Competence Signals on Women's Performance Evaluations


  • The authors would like to thank Selin Kesebir, Madan Pillutla, Stefan Thau, our action editor, and the anonymous reviewers for providing helpful feedback on this manuscript.


This research explores the possibility that the very accomplishments that are critical to success during the hiring process (e.g., educational attainment, promotion history) can lead to a drop in future performance evaluations for women. We theorized that evaluators may see such competence signals as a threat to the traditional gender hierarchy, which leads to a negative bias when evaluating women's on-the-job performance. In Study 1, we examined this hypothesis among commanding officers in the U.S. military, who gave lower performance ratings to female subordinates whose pay grade approached their own. The same was not true for male subordinates. Studies 2, 3a, and 3b experimentally tested the boundary conditions of this effect using two additional competence signals (educational attainment and past career successes) and 2 different populations. Across these studies, we replicated the negative relationship between competence signal strength and performance evaluations for female subordinates but only under conditions in which the evaluator would be particularly likely to experience gender hierarchy threat. Specifically, it emerged when the evaluator was male and high social-dominance oriented and when the female subordinate's objective on-the-job performance was high. Finally, Study 3a demonstrated how organizations can mitigate this negative bias by using objective (rather than subjective) performance evaluations.