Recommendation Letters May Be Costing Women Jobs

Recommendation LettersAccording to a recent study at Rice University, qualities mentioned in recommendation letters for women differ greatly from those for men, and those differences may be costing women jobs and promotions in academia and medicine.

After reviewing 624 letters of recommendation for 194 applicants for eight junior faculty positions at a U.S. university, researchers found that letter writers conformed to traditional gender themes when describing candidates.

When words CAN harm

Female candidates were described in more "communal," or social and emotive terms, while male candidates were described in more "agentic," or active and assertive terms.

The more social and emotive characteristics mentioned in the letters, the lower the evaluation of the candidate.

Words in the social and emotive category included adjectives such as affectionate, helpful, kind, sympathetic, nurturing, tactful, and agreeable, and behaviors such as helping others, taking direction well and maintaining relationships.

Assertive adjectives included words such as confident, aggressive, ambitious, dominant, forceful, independent, daring, outspoken and intellectual, and behaviors such as speaking assertively, influencing others and initiating tasks.

According to Rice University professor Randi Martin, who led the study, "the pipeline shortage of women in academia is a well-known and researched phenomenon, but this study is the first of its kind to examine the recommendation letter's role in contributing to the disparity and evaluate it using inferential statistics and objective measures.

It's also the first study to show that gender differences in letters actually affect judgments of hireability. Michelle Hebl, Martin's research partner and professor of psychology and management at Rice adds, "this research has important implications not only for women in academia but also for women in management and leadership roles. A large body of research suggests that communality is not perceived to be congruent with leadership and managerial jobs."

This research suggests that women should pay attention to the role that recommendation letters could play in the hiring decision and they should in turn create a proactive strategy to mitigate potential gender bias when submitting recommendation letters to hiring authorities.

How to improve your chances

To take more control over the way your recommendations/references are perceived, try the following.

Offer to write your letter of recommendation for your boss.

This practice allows you to position your experience and accomplishments in a more active and assertive manner and minimizes the chances that you won't be perceived as a leader.

Coach references to highlight your skills objectively.

After you have interviewed for a job and you are told your references may be contacted, touch base with your references, let them know what position you have applied for, and coach them on how to provide a reference that best aligns you with the skills needed for the job and positions you as a strong leader and manager.

Request endorsements on social networking and online identity sites.

Build up your endorsements on such sites as LinkedIn and Naymz and ask your endorsers to use language that suggests assertiveness and the ability to influence others. By building a strong digital footprint and a portfolio of consistent and well-positioned endorsements, you may improve your chances of being seen in a positive light by decision makers and possibly off-set the impact of any references that suggest a gender stereotype.

Next: The Reference Check Removes One in Five Job Candidates From Consideration

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Along with the need to run spell check!!! LOL sorry ;-)

November 18 2010 at 3:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Women are traditionally looked at from the "caretaker" view so it stands to reason that those would be the adjectives chosen to describe her and what is good about her. Men on the other hand are the procurment species and we look to them for those skills. These are inbred into our very core existance. We just need to realize that needs to be considered when reading these recommencations. When a woman is described as aggressive she is considered a bitch and overlooked when a man is described as sensitive and understanding he is considered weak. That said, the purpose of a recomendation letter is to establish that you have allies in your past and haven't burned your bridges. Would you really ask for a recommendation from someone who hates you? I never pur too much interest in one's recommendations. The key was when calling for employment varification and asking would you rehire this person. If the answer would be no there is a long silence and then the pat answer we are not allowed to comment. If the answer would be yes, it is usually divulged anyway regardless of company policy, or at least you hear the positive and quick reply. Bottom line this is all BS anyway, just empty space needing to be filled.

November 18 2010 at 3:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

WHAT JOBS?????????????????

November 18 2010 at 2:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Aunt Winnie

No, it makes us goddesses.

November 18 2010 at 12:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey Mike. If the recommendation was written for you to receive a bronze medal in 1970 and you feel you deserved it and did not receive it, then maybe you should have fought to get it. As for me, I fought for it.

November 18 2010 at 12:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Women and men who are over the age of forty are having a tough time right now in the job market. As soon as an employer reads your resume and figures out how old you are based on years of work experience or graduation dates, into the garbage it goes. On to the next desperate job seeker. It doesn't matter how good your references and letters of recommendation are.

November 18 2010 at 12:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yes my atatement is true. I've worked in H.R. for years. Check with the labor laws of California.

November 18 2010 at 12:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I can't even get a part time gig doing bupkis and now I read just one more column about why I'm NOT MARKETABLE. It makes me want to shout!!! All I want to know is how many other job candidates have to be bumped off before I'm actually next in line for a job?

November 18 2010 at 12:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Marie's comment
Steve R


God damnit, I've been out of work over 3 years and applied at over 2,000 companies. I have a college degree and three trade school certificates. It's always either I'm under qualified or over qualified (over aged). The problem is I'm in my 40's. and because of the deliberate destruction of the economy and massive unemployment, employers are only looking to hire people 29 or younger. I’ve applied for full time, part time, contract, etc every Goddamn job I can qualify for. I’m not picky, I’ll take anything. I registered with thousands of agencies. Occasionally I get a call from an agency but when they submit my resume they say the company wants someone younger. I’ve heard this dozens of times over the last few years.

I'm a hard and reliable worker but I'm been laid off several times over the last 10 years do to outsourcing and because in California they want Hispanics not English speaking whites. God fucking damn our piece of Goddamn shit government for letting the economy crumble while they laugh and live in luxury with their 6 digit salaries and 6 digit pensions. God Fucking damn this Goddamn fucked up country.


the new slogan


November 18 2010 at 1:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It amazes me how people make such negative blanket statements about people who have been wronged. I have to agree with this article. I was a Major in the Army Reserve and was the OIC of 4 dental teams on a humanitarian mission. We had many obstacles to overcome including making a non functional dental clinic functional. I had to revised our schedule numerous times and shift teams to accommodate the various orders that came from the commander and we still exceeded the expectations of the mission.

With all that said, when it came time to write recommendations for citations, my superior officer wrote phrases such as, "She has a cheery disposition" and other 'fluffy' comments that had nothing to do with the content of my leadership and the success of the mission. It was rejected the first time because nothing he stated merited the citation, but he and other sr officers were awarded their citations. I and others fought on my behalf and it was re-written. I was awarded the citation, and the commander stated the mission was successful largely due to the work of the dental teams and my leadership.

I do believe it is important to explain one's personality, but only in such a way that is relevant to the motivation of others to get a job done. I would have never thought the officer who wrote the recommendation would have written it the way he did, because he was privy to every aspect of my and my teams' work. I also assumed he had written many of these recommendation due to his rank.

In a nutshell, never assume your recommendations will be written mainly based on you skills and competence. Let those who are your references know, in writing, what you have done. It makes it easier for them to be a good reference and reminds them of your competence.

November 18 2010 at 12:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to K's comment


November 18 2010 at 12:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's Catch-22. Change comes slowly & often, you can't win.

I guarantee you that if the more active & assertive terms were applied to a woman's letter of recommendation, that it would hurt her even more than the usual gender stereotyping.

What potential employers or superiors would read into the assertive terms would be "%itch."

November 18 2010 at 11:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to scholastica8's comment
Steve R


The latest statistics show that over 50% of the children in America are now on food stamps. Even more stunning is 90% of African American kids are now on food stamps.

Why, two reasons:. First massive unemployment and a worthless government that doesn’t give a damn about anything except helping the filthy rich get richer so that they can get their bribes and kickbacks.

Now that Global Big business completely controls our government through bribes via corporate lobbyists, they don’t want any more jobs created in this country because it would compete with all the foreign markets. Global Big Business says “screw the American people, we plan to offshore every damn American job and there is nothing the American people can do about it because we now completely control the US federal government so ha ha”

Second, many people that have jobs can’t afford to feed their children because the cost of living in this country is so ridiculously high. This is due to all the constant inflation caused by our lazy worthless government constantly increasing the nation debt with wasteful spending and bullshit give a ways. The higher it gets, the higher inflation gets as the dollar is then worth less.

Our government says they would rather pay the entire country food stamps, welfare , government housing, unemployment rather than create jobs or help keep the jobs from being offshored. Why, because that’s what Global Big Business wants and they control our government now so get it through your thick heads. Most of corrupt government leaders don’t really care how high the national debt gets as long as they get their 6 digit salaries, 6 digit pensions plus their bribes and kick backs from Global Big Business and the Global banks that actually want the national to go up so they can get more interest and eventually own the US (and everything that we own)

This may be the richest country in the world but we have one of the most corrupt governments’ in the world. After many years the politicians (many started off as lawyers) were able to change and create laws and a system in which the filthy rich would be able to eventually own everything (power and wealth) and continue to get richer by making the poor poorer That’s why 1% of the country owns 98% of the wealth

Face the facts, there is only one solution. We need to get together and start a revolution , try and hang every politician from congress to the assembly and replace them with people who won’t sell us out.

We need to start Now if we want to save our country………..

November 18 2010 at 1:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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