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

Juan M. Madera, Michelle R. Hebl, Heather Dial, Randi Martin, Virgina Valian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-303
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Business and Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 15 Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Academia
  • Discrimination
  • Gender schemas
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Sex roles


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