How academic recommendation letters for men and women differ

Evidence from text analysis of 886 letters of recommendation on behalf of 235 male and 42 female applicants for either a chemistry or biochemistry faculty position at a large U.S. research university.

…the results of the current study revealed more similarity in the letters written for male and female job candidates than differences. Male and female candidates had similar levels of qualifications and this was reflected in their letters of recommendation. Letters written for women included language that was just as positive and placed equivalent emphasis on ability, achievement, and research.

Thus, in contrast to the findings of Trix and Psenka (2003), letters for female candidates to jobs in chemistry and biochemistry did not contain significantly more tentative language and did not overemphasize teaching and hard work over research and ability.

However, it is notable that recommenders used significantly more standout adjectives to describe male candidates as compared to female candidates, even though objective criteria showed no gender differences in qualifications.

…Interestingly, the data also revealed that letters that contained more standout words also included more ability related terms and fewer grindstone [e.g. hardworking] words.