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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Calculator of gender bias in recommendation letters

Do your letters of recommendation show signs of gender bias? Some research suggests that the characteristics and qualities of candidates that are emphasized may vary across letters written for men and those written for women. Give this calculator a spin to see how your letters fare. Compare your letters written for men to those written for women. Is the ratio of male-associated words to female-associated words, as defined by the tool, about the same across the letters? The calculator doesn’t pretend to be a perfect tool, but it can help you be more self-aware of subtle or not-so-subtle differences in your letters. If you are assuming you have no need to check your letters, why not check and confirm your assumption?


Letters, both when we write them and when we read them, are but one way in which we all need to be mindful of potential implicit gender bias in our work. What is the gender representation on our syllabi, on panels we create or speakers we invite, in our citations, in our candidate pools, in service? These are just a few of the areas to which we all need to be attentive with regard to potential bias and omission. Being attentive does not mean there is some predefined correct number or percentage in these areas but it does mean being self reflective about our choices. It’s important to be mindful of these issues beyond gender as well. And although these examples point to matters facing faculty, similar issues affect staff and students.