Caitlin Flynn
Updated Oct 17, 2016 @ 5:45 pm

Women in the workforce face a variety of obstacles — from the persistent wage gap to being interrupted more often than our male colleagues during meetings, it’s understandable why many women feel undervalued at work.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the results of a new study reveal another frustrating fact — men are twice as likely as women to receive outstanding letters of recommendation. However, the reason is way more complicated than blatant sexism.

The study shows that, due to unconscious gender bias, even scientists fall into the damaging trap of unintentionally undermining women in recommendation letters.

Men and women receive an equal number of “doubtful” letters from their employers, which shows that intentional sexism isn’t the real problem. Instead, it’s the positive adjectives that are used to describe men versus women.


The fact that both men and women use similar language in recommendation letters illustrates the depth of implicit gender bias.

The results of this study are both frustrating and discouraging — but companies like Google and Microsoft are working to combat unconscious bias by educating their employees about the issue, Huffington Post reports. They’re even using software that helps hiring managers adjust job listings in order to eliminate phrases that are implicitly biased.

However, the fact that bias can be unconscious makes fixing the problem trickier — most people aren’t aware that they’re perpetuating sexism because they aren’t inherently sexist. But, knowledge is power. As more studies like these emerge, hopefully both men and women will think twice about the positive words we use to describe one another.