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IACM 2023

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“You Must Interview This Candidate!”: Risky Sponsorship and Gender

Recommendation letters have become an indispensable component of any selection process, from children entering grade school to faculty being considered for a lifelong appointment. As such, there is ample research on recommendation letters but most of this work focuses on the target of the letter, that is, the candidate. Much less attention has been paid to the fact that letter writers may risk their social capital and credibility (Campbell et al., 2022) when they agree to provide this form of sponsorship. In this project, we examine how letter writers manage this risk through the language they use and whether such language use differs between men and women letter writers. We provide results from a completed study which involves qualitative coding of 96 recommendation letters for tenure-track faculty positions. We are in the process of analyzing a large-scale dataset of post-doctoral recommendation letters as well as an experiment testing language effectiveness.

Nazli Bhatia
University of Pennsylvania
United States

Irene Scopelliti
City University of London
United Kingdom


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