Ladies: Make Sure Your Letters of Reference Aren’t Hurting You
Don’t Shoot the Messenger
Let’s be clear. Gender bias is real. (Thanks for not shooting the messenger.) Furthermore, it’s not always intentional. And that’s the really scary part.
What’s Actually Happening
As a result, female b-school applicants are selecting good recommenders. These individuals know them well. They are advocating their candidacies. Or so they think. However, they sometimes commit gender bias without even knowing it. Perhaps they choose adjectives such as “caring,” “warm,” or “helpful” when writing recommendations for females.
But, when they write recommendations for males, they are more apt to use adjectives such as “ambitious,” “confident,” and “independent.” Do you see the difference? Sadly, empirical studies have confirmed this bias. Unfortunately, sometimes admissions officers don’t properly account for the gender bias when reading applications despite their sincere, best effort.
So what can you do? We generally recommend one of the following two options with the first being our preference.
Option 1: Offer to Draft the Letters of Reference Yourself
Your recommender may not know what to say. Additionally he may be extremely busy and unable to focus to recall the most salient details relevant to the admissions committee for your particular candidacy. As a result, you can offer to draft the recommendation.
As long as your recommender signs it, you have nothing to fear. The letter of reference will holistically support the rest of your application. And, if the school calls your recommender, you have nothing to fear from the truth. “Well, actually, Jane Doe wrote it, but it’s all true and I signed it.”
Option 2: Ask Your Recommender to Use a Gender Bias Calculator
You might have to have recommenders who are a bit progressive, but ask them to use a gender bias calculator on their draft reference. They might even thank you making them more cognizant of their subconscious biases.