Original Article

Sex Roles

, Volume 57, Issue 7, pp 509-514

First online:

A Linguistic Comparison of Letters of Recommendation for Male and Female Chemistry and Biochemistry Job Applicants

  • Toni SchmaderAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Arizona Email author 
  • , Jessica WhiteheadAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Arizona
  • , Vicki H. WysockiAffiliated withDepartment of Chemistry, University of Arizona

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Letters of recommendation are central to the hiring process. However, gender stereotypes could bias how recommenders describe female compared to male applicants. In the current study, text analysis software was used to examine 886 letters of recommendation written on behalf of 235 male and 42 female applicants for either a chemistry or biochemistry faculty position at a large U.S. research university. Results revealed more similarities than differences in letters written for male and female candidates. However, recommenders used significantly more standout adjectives to describe male as compared to female candidates. Letters containing more standout words also included more ability words and fewer grindstone words. Research is needed to explore how differences in language use affect perceivers’ evaluations of female candidates.


Gender schemas Sexism Implicit biases Hiring decisions Chemistry