Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Recommendation Letters

Summer is officially over, classes are back in session, and temperatures are (finally!) starting to cool off. Which means it's job hunting season!
This year, I'm going to be on the other side of the job hunting process. And from this perspective, I thought it would be useful to post a reminder to letter-writers and letter-readers about letters about women candidates.
This article is a couple of years old, but the message is still valid. (And as with most online articles exposing gender bias, it does not pay to delve into the comment section.) The upshot is that in an analysis of hundreds of letters of recommendation, "Female candidates were described in more communal (social or emotive) terms and male candidates in more agentic (active or assertive) terms." Moreover, "The more communal characteristics mentioned, the lower the evaluation of the candidate." In addition, "letter writers included more doubt raisers when recommending women, using phrases such as 'She might make an excellent leader' versus what they used for male candidates, 'He is already an established leader.'"
So, if you are writing letters for women, be aware of the language you use. And if you are reading letters for women candidates, look out for the language used to describe her and avoid letting it color your judgement. Rather, look at more objective criteria, such as publications and experience.
Happy hunting!