Tag Archives: reference letters

World of Work Roundup: Moments in which to turn your mind to gender

[oops, the original version of this post went out a bit unfinished]

Two moments: One, when you`re writing, or reading, a reference letter. And two, when you`re listening to someone talk about how good they are.  Also, the Fifth Annual National Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms from the U.S. National Association of Women Lawyers came out in October.  Here’s the conclusion:

We report the results of the 2010 Survey with some consternation. Progress for women lawyers in large firms is not occurring quickly. Moreover, the evolving structural changes in law firms – such as expansion of jobs at the lower end of firms, the increasing dominance of two-tier or multi-tier firms, and other non-traditional factors – along with the difficulty of obtaining credit for business development, portend stagnation or, at best, continued slow improvement in key areas such as numbers and compensation of women equity partners. Against this disappointing background, we are all the more heartened by and appreciative of the continued cooperation of participating law firms, whose efforts make a very meaningful contribution to a goal that we all share: parity of women lawyers in private practice.

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The study described in this blog post is called The Emergence of Male Leadership in Competitive Environments (click here for the original paper).  The subjects were MBA students.

First, they gave 134 MBA students 150 seconds in which to add up as many sets of 4 two-digit numbers as they could.
Then, 15 months later, they split the students into 33 groups and asked them to choose a representative to do the same adding-up task, with the best representative winning money for the whole group.
Very few women were chosen as representatives; only 4 out of the 33 groups chose one, which is only half as many as would be expected.
This was not because the women were worse at adding up. Instead, it’s because men claimed to be better at the task, and so the group chose them.
This was not because the men simply lied; men and women lied roughly equally. It’s because the men misremembered their past performance. When the researchers offered the students $50 if they correctly recalled how many correct answers they got, men over-estimated their performance by an average of 2.4 answers, whilst women over-estimated by only 0.9 answers. This over-estimate of past performance led to an overconfidence about prospective performance, and hence a greater likelihood of being picked. source

Thanks to Dal`s Dean Kim Brooks for pointing me to this one – there`s one woman who could easily afford to underestimate herself by .9 – she`s still head and shoulders above most humans.

Finally, just right for hiring/ref letter season. Do not try to support a woman in a reference letter by saying that she’s supportive! Here’s the article, from Inside Higher Ed: Too Nice to Land a Job.  This one is via Kate of lawandlit, one of the best twitter streams out there and [cannot resist] a very supportive colleague. Excerpt follows:

The research is based on a content analysis of 624 letters of recommendation submitted on behalf of 194 applicants for eight junior faculty positions at an unidentified research university.

The study found patterns in which different kinds of words were more likely to be used to describe women, while other words were more often used to describe men. In theory, both sets of words were positive. There’s nothing wrong, one might hope, with being a supportive colleague. But the researchers then took the letters, removed identifying information, and controlled for such factors as number of papers published, number of honors received, and various other objective criteria. When search committee members were asked to compare candidates of comparable objective criteria, those whose letters praised them for “communal” or “emotive” qualities (those associated with women) were ranked lower than others.