Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: An examination of whether and how
racial and gender biases influence customer satisfaction
Authors: D. R. Hekman, K. Aquino, B. P.
Owens, T. R. Mitchell, P. Schilpzand, & K. Leavitt
Reviewed By: Katie Bachman
There’s this great
line in the 1980 movie, 9 to 5, when Jane Fonda says to Dabney Coleman: “You’re a sexist,
egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” and he replies: “So I have a few
faults; who doesn’t?” Keep that in mind when you think about the Average Joe on
the street, filling out a survey. Untrained raters don’t rate accurately—that’s
why they need training! Customer satisfaction surveys are the epitome of using
untrained raters to measure employee performance.
attempting to become more customer service-oriented, customer satisfaction
surveys seem like a good way to measure performance. You might get an accurate
rating if you’re White and male, but minorities and women can be hurt by these
types of ratings. Bias seeps into the rating process, which is a big time legal
no-no, particularly if such ratings are used as criteria for promotion and
compensation. In three separate studies—two in the field and one in the
lab—researchers determined that women and minorities were consistently rated
lower on customer satisfaction, even when performance was the same. Obviously,
this relationship was even stronger when the rater held negative attitudes
toward these groups. Additionally, the negative ratings given to minority and
female employees also affect customer ratings of the organization. It’s not
enough that customers like your employees a little less for being non-White or
female, they also like your company a little less.
Why is this happening?
Anonymity probably has something to do with it. Surveys almost never ask
customer raters to identify themselves so people feel freer to let their
attitudes affect their judgments. Also, there’s a lack of standards and
training for most of these surveys. Raters without training may rely on their
gut reactions more so than individuals trained to focus on observed behavior.
So what does this mean
for an organization? Customer satisfaction surveys need to be taken with a
grain of salt and probably not used for employment decisions. Customers will rate identical work
as less satisfactory if a woman or minority performs it (no word in this
article about the double whammy: female minorities). If you are going to use
them, customer satisfaction surveys should be tailored to ask for behavioral
episodes, not gut reactions and should only be used in conjunction with other,
less biased measures of employee performance.
D. R., Aquino, K., Owens, B. P., Mitchell, T. R., Schilpzand, P., &
Leavitt, K. (2010). An examination of whether and how racial and gender biases
influence customer satisfaction. Academy of Management Journal, 53, 238-264