A new study sponsored by the National Science Foundation and conducted by Rice University professors—Michelle Hebl and Randi Martin and graduate student Juan Madera—reveals that recommendation letters could prevent women from getting jobs and promotions. They reviewed 624 letters of recommendation for 194 job applicants and this is what they discovered:
They found that letter writers conformed to traditional gender schemas when describing candidates. Female candidates were described in more communal (social or emotive) terms and male candidates in more agentic (active or assertive) terms.
A further aspect of the study involved rating the strength of the letters, or the likelihood the candidate would be hired based on the letter. The research team removed names and personal pronouns from the letters and asked faculty members to evaluate them. The researchers controlled for such variables as the number of years candidates were in graduate school, the number papers they had published, the number of publications on which they were the lead author, the number of honors they received, the number of years of postdoctoral education, the position applied for and the number of courses taught.
Find out more about this study here.