Interpreting letters of reference

Letters of recommendation (or ‘references’) for job candidates can differ depending on whether the candidate is a man or a woman. For candidates of equal merit, letters of recommendation written for women are likely to be, for example, shorter, to emphasise supportive attributes rather than leadership qualities, and to contain few superlatives. These differences may reflect an unconscious bias among writers of such letters, who are usually senior men. By bearing in mind the possibility that men and women candidates could be described differently, members of selection panels may be able to moderate these differences and so minimise the effect of the bias.

To improve employment prospects for women, you could:

Recognise that references are difficult to write
Be alert to stereotypes
Recognise the scope of the reference
Interpret ‘faint praise’
Allow for the potential for leadership
Understand candidates’ own unconscious bias

Recognise that references are difficult...



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Posted in Advocacy & Policy.

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