Advices to limit involuntary prejudice in recruitment and promotion panels

Advices to limit involuntary prejudice in recruitment and promotion panels.



This page is intended for any person who is liable to express an opinion or write a recommendation letter for some candidate in the course
of a recruitment or promotion process for researchers. It targets in particular:

  • external experts who write recommendation letters;
  • team leaders (or research centre directors) who write letters to support applications;
  • members of recruitment and promotion panels, who produce reports on candidates.

As a complement to the Equal opportunities and gender equality charter of Inria, the EOGE committee wishes to provide some assistance for preparing recommendation letters, in order to limit the impact of {involuntary prejudice/unconscious bias} during the recruitment and promotion processes for researchers. To this end, the committee has sketched a list of advices for letter writing, taking inspiration from the strategy proposed by the Canadian site for nomination of Research Chairs and from a commission of the University of Arizona (USA). We invite you to visit these sites to avoid unconsciously biased formulations.

It is important to avoid involuntary prejudice within letters of recommendation, as it could have a negative effect on the overall success and on the career progression of candidates —especially if they are women. Research has shown that social and environmental factors (including involuntary prejudice) contribute to the under-representation of women in scientific domains.


Here is a short list of advices to limit the influence of unconscious bias within letters and reports:

  • avoid using stereotypical adjectives when describing character and skills, especially when the candidate is a woman (e.g., avoid words like kind, agreeable, sympathetic, compassionate, generous, caring, warm, maternal, etc.);
  • use ‘stand-out’ adjectives in the same way for men and for women (e.g., brilliant, original, outstanding, exceptional, excellent, ambitious, knowledgeable, with great potential etc.);
  • use the candidate formal title and surname instead of her/his first name;
  • check that your letter does not unintentionally contain omissions, doubt-raising formulations, negative or weak statements, particularly when referring to a woman (e.g., “could possibly become a first-class specialist” versus “is a recognized first-class specialist”);
  • when assessing the productivity of the candidate, take into account career breaks due to maternity leave, health conditions, sabbatical periods in industry etc.

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