Linh Chi VO

4 min.

23 February 2023

Lessons Learned from Women in the Line-Up: The Impact of Feedback in Professional Environments

The “leaky pipeline” affects women in male-dominated fields: they progressively disappear at each rung of the corporate ladder. This process starts early, as witnessed in engineering degree programs. According to Silbey in Harvard Business Review (2016), 40% of women students never enter the job market or leave it early. One of the ways women are discouraged from continuing in these fields is negative feedback from professional environments. This issue is compounded because they expect more feedback than their male colleagues (Silbey, 2016)[1]. These two tendencies lead to a vicious cycle that impacts women’s decision to stay in the pipeline.


Taking a Different Approach: Feedback from Home that Impacts Professional Decisions

Our study is counterintuitive because we reveal the impact of feedback from the home environment on professional decisions of women in male-dominated fields. We conducted interviews with thirty women in maritime management positions, a field that is male-dominated. We find the style of asking for feedback during decision-making processes and the attitude towards the women’s careers at home affect their professional paths. Women use two styles of asking for feedback at home when faced with professional decisions: communicative and consultative. In addition, their relatives are either supportive or unfavorable towards their careers. The various combinations of these two factors influence women’s professional paths differently, as we see in the following matrix.



In a communicative style, the feedback from another individual helps the women complete their decisions. This style is used when they are unsure about their decisions and are open to changing their minds. The attitude at home is also crucial. When the attitude at home is supportive of the women’s careers, they receive backing in the form of consensus. The communicative style, therefore, can help them find creative solutions to make the best decisions for their careers. When the attitude at home is unfavorable, however, using this style exposes women to negative feedback. Women who use the communicative style in an unfavorable home environment sometimes make decisions that slow down their careers. For example, some women choose relationships over promotions. The relationships end, but the career opportunities have passed.

In the consultative style, women speak about making the decision beforehand and then convincing relatives while asking for feedback. Women using this style have already made the decision about the core issue and seek to operationalize the decision, such as negotiating childcare or housework. When the attitude at home is supportive, the women have less career setbacks, such as refusing promotions, and can accelerate on their chosen paths. However, these women benefit less from the experience of relatives, making them less efficient in achieving their career goals. When the attitude at home is unfavorable, these women maintain their career strategy, but advance with less resources. They have less resources because time and money go towards creating conditions at home to stay in the pipeline.


Cruising the Pipeline: Recommendations

Women seeking to stay in the pipeline in male-dominated fields should strategically modify their style of asking for feedback at home according to their assessment of the attitude at home. As shown in our matrix, when the home environment is supportive, women should use a communicative style rather than a consultative one. Together with their relatives, they create a joint force behind the best choice for women’s careers. If women use a consultative style, however, their own strategies can blind them to the know-how of their relatives. When the home environment is unfavorable and women already know what is best for their careers, the consultative style often promotes their decisions and allows for operationalization. In this case, women should prepare to dedicate resources to meet their career goals. Using a communicative style is not recommended because it will slow down their career progress.

Managers should create the optimal combination of style and an environment of supportive attitude for their women employees. Women need training about these issues. They should understand the benefits of using the communicative style in supportive home environments. If the attitude at home is unfavorable, managers can help by building networks of women who are supportive of others’ careers.


Linh Chi VO is a research professor at Esdes Business School.

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