Journal of Business and Psychology

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 287–303 | Cite as

Raising Doubt in Letters of Recommendation for Academia: Gender Differences and Their Impact

  • Juan M. MaderaEmail author
  • Michelle R. Hebl
  • Heather Dial
  • Randi Martin
  • Virgina Valian
Original Paper


The extent of gender bias in academia continues to be an object of inquiry, and recent research has begun to examine the particular gender biases emblematic in letters of recommendations. This current two-part study examines differences in the number of doubt raisers that are written in 624 authentic letters of recommendations for 174 men and women applying for eight assistant professor positions (study 1) and the impact of these doubt raisers on 305 university professors who provided evaluations of recommendation letters (study 2). The results show that both male and female recommenders use more doubt raisers in letters of recommendations for women compared to men and that the presence of certain types of doubt raisers in letters of recommendations results in negative outcomes for both genders. Since doubt raisers are more frequent in letters for women than men, women are at a disadvantage relative to men in their applications for academic positions. We discuss the implications and need for additional future research and practice that (1) raises awareness that letter writers are gatekeepers who can improve or hinder women’s progress and (2) develops methods to eliminate the skewed use of doubt raisers.


Letters of recommendation Gender schemas Discrimination Sex roles Academia 


Funding Information

This paper was funded by an NIH Grant (1R01GM088530).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juan M. Madera
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michelle R. Hebl
    • 2
  • Heather Dial
    • 2
  • Randi Martin
    • 2
  • Virgina Valian
    • 3
  1. 1.University of HoustonHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Rice UniversityHoustonUSA
  3. 3.Hunter College and CUNY Graduate CenterNew YorkUSA

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