High GPA and Gender Biases in the Job Market

By Roberta Attanasio, Forever Leaders Editor

Does an outstanding college GPA open doors in the job market for recent female graduates? The correct answer could be surprising. According to results from a recent “audit study”, women benefit more from moderate than high academic performance. The study (The Mark of a Woman’s Record: Gender and Academic Performance in Hiring) was published in April 2018 in the journal American Sociological Review.

Natasha Quadlin, the researcher who carried out the audit study, submitted applications from 2,106 job seekers of both genders for various entry-level positions appropriate for new graduates. However, the job seekers weren’t actual people—they were imaginary applicants, with imaginary names and resumes.

Photo credit: Matt Ragland on Unsplash

For each resume, Quadlin experimentally manipulated GPA, gender, and college major, and provided an email address and phone number. The employers advertising for the entry-level positions did not know they received these applications for research purposes, and believed they were from real applicants.

Quadlin identified the advertised entry-level jobs using an online employment database. She sent two applications for each job posting she selected—one from a man and one from a woman, using applicants’ names common to the regions where the applications were sent. Both applications included similar cover letters, academic history and participation in gender-neutral extracurricular activities. The applicants majors were either math (an area traditionally thought of as male dominated), or English (female-skewed), or business (considered gender-neutral).

Quadlin found that male applicants with high GPA were significantly more likely to be contacted by employers than female applicants with same grades, educational background, and comparable experience. Notably, male math majors were called back by employers three times as often as their women counterparts—as compared to two times for the other majors.

A survey carried out with 261 hiring decision-makers then suggested that the employers’ contacted male applicants more often because of gendered standards.  For male applicants, employers appeared to value competence and commitment. For female applicants, instead, they valued more their perceived “likability” than their academic success. Such gendered standards, therefore, appear to penalize women with high GPA at the level of job market entry.

Quadlin said in a press release: “Men were more likely to get a call back if they were seen as having more competence and commitment, but only ‘likability’ seemed to benefit women.” She added that likeability is associated with moderate academic achievement, and that employers should consider biases they may not even realize they have when sorting through applications. It should be noted, however, that the study didn’t target high-paying, more-prestigious jobs, and targeting these jobs could change the outcome.

Copyright © 2016-2018 Forever Leaders.

15 comments

  1. Reading the blog post made me feel frustrated with the reality that women face when trying to enter the job market. According to the study conducted by Quadlin, women that have high GPA are less likely to find a job. How is that even possible? Why do employees value more smart men than smart women? Why women need to be “likable”? And why been less smart makes women more likable? I wonder what the answers to these questions are. I believe that the employee hires a woman already thinking that she won’t ever have a leading role in the company. Following that logic the employee may prefer women that are not as qualified and would be satisfied with their position. It is frustrating to read that not being ambitious to become a leader is what is seen as “likable” in a woman. I believe that employees should only take into consideration who is more qualified for the job, sex should never be a factor. If that happened, we would see a great increase in women leaders.

  2. It was astonishing to see that high grades can be a detriment to women as they look for entry-level positions. In terms of the study design, I do appreciate that Quadlin chose names that are common to the regions where the applications were sent. This is important because we already know that applicants with “ghetto” or phonetically different names are less likely to be considered. This potential bias can be ruled out. So, what is going on? Well, the article mentions a “likability” factor. I can contest this by looking at how popular culture attaches this factor to women, and how high achievement can lower a woman’s likeability. We can take numerous influential women (e.g. Stacey Abrams) and look at the criticisms and assumptions they receive. They are usually more readily classified as unrelatable, self-important, and lacking morals despite their qualifications. However, their male counterparts are usually seen more as innovative and powerful. This is especially evident in a capitalistic society ruled by patriarchal values, where independence and scholarly achievement have been accessed mostly by men—usually white man. However, if you don’t fit into this category there is more scrutiny because you are not the “norm”. There are more questions as to how you achieved your success and what you might have given up in terms of personality and character. A thing the researcher notes is that these are applications for entry-level positions. I can see where Nuria is going by suggesting that employers may be hiring women with moderate academic achievement because they would be less likely to desire leadership positions. However, that conclusion would indicate a callous agenda and explicit bias. I don’t think most employers are trying to discriminate against women. This seems more like a case of implicit bias, which stems from depending too much on the “likability” factor for women.

    • I agree with your take on the historical concept of celebrating the successes of men and scrutinizing women who are high achieving. I do believe that society puts a high requirement on women to be likable and approachable and less emphasis on our intellects. The researcher did an excellent job of creating an even playing field for both applicants and reducing the likelihood of name bias and racial discrimination by employers. Although I do not agree with your disagreement to Nuria’s view, I believe she was right in suggesting that employers do not want a woman who may one day want to be in charge or take over a predominant male working sector. I believe that the likability factor plays a key role in covering up these employment biases against women.

    • Titi made some good points that were in the article. As I was reading this blog post, this was very disappointing to read about. Society has based a bias around gender and the workplace. I feel that this is why many women don’t take risks and want to pursue certain jobs because men will have a better opportunity. How is it that women can be qualified but can’t get a job because they aren’t likable? Or they can’t get a job if they are too qualified? It becomes frustrating when women work so hard to get where they need to be and they don’t become recognized because their male counterparts hold higher values within the workforce. Titi also mentioned this point in her comment and I agree with her all the way. I hope that future generations, as well as my generation, can close this gap and uplift women to and let them know that their intelligence and hard work means just as much as men.

    • Titi made some good points that were in the article. As I was reading this blog post, this was very disappointing to read about. Society has based a bias around gender and the workplace. I feel that this is why many women don’t take risks and want to pursue certain jobs because men will have a better opportunity. How is it that women can be qualified but can’t get a job because they aren’t likable? Or they can’t get a job if they are too qualified? It becomes frustrating when women work so hard to get where they need to be and they don’t become recognized because their male counterparts hold higher values within the workforce. Titi also mentioned this point in her comment and I agree with her all the way. I hope that future generations, as well as my generation, can close this gap and uplift women to and let them know that their intelligence and hard work means just as much as men.

  3. The findings of this research did not come as a surprise to me. women have historically been viewed as prices to win and exist for the sole purpose of pleasing others, whether it’s their family or their significant other. The intelligence of women is usually not considered as a valuable aspect about them and often times its over looked. In movies you’ll more likely see a women praised for her looks and sex appeal than her intelligence and professional drive. Considering the role that the media plays in society, its no surprise that most people are conditioned to also have these views, including men and women. Similar to the previous article about “must have and nice to haves”, this article not only highlights the preference of men in leadership roles but also seen as more intelligent. These stereotypes are in both men and women and have been instilled in us since birth and reenforced by society. The most people can hope for is to teach our kids better and build a new generation that believes in equality between the sexes. I believe these decisions to assign gender roles are not conscious decisions but are inherently built inside of us.

    • I agree that instilling the importance of equality in our children is vital to a better future. As women with high GPAs, how do you think we can combat this issue now so we can succeed and make it to leadership roles? By being both likable and intelligent? I feel like now that there’s research being done in this field perhaps we can use the hard data to our advantage by investing in our likability from a strategic standpoint, at least to get our foot in the door. Then at least from there we’ll be in a better position to confront the discrepancy directly. If we can make it to the top, we’ll be the ones deciding who gets a call back and we can emphasize the importance of intelligence regardless of gender during that process.

    • i definitely agree with your response. It is no surprise that the study found the results it did. As a woman, we have a harder time trying to showcase our intelligence in a manner that others will receive. Why is it that intelligence makes us less likeable? I do believe that teaching children equality between male and females would alleviate this issue for future generations. What are some ways that you think we could change the mindset of the current ones?

  4. After reading the article, I was a bit surprised but not entirely shocked by the findings of the research. We live in a society that says working hard and getting an education increases your odds of employment and improves life outcomes. However, this is not the case as proven by the research conducted by Quadlin. Throughout history, women have always been seen as less intellectual than men, whether true or not, and have been made to focus on things other than academics. In society, we praise and celebrate the high achieving successes of men but look down on women when we try to give all our focus to growing knowledge and exceeding in our fields instead of having children or getting married. There is this central focus on women staying in societal norms and being likable by others not for their works but instead their outer appearance and soft manner of speaking. I, myself have experienced these biases when people have assumed that I’m mean or unapproachable due to my high academic achievements and drive to succeed. In terms of the article and the research itself, I believe that Quadlin did an excellent job of creating an even playing field for the fictional applicants by giving them familiar names and similar resumes in order to reduce bias. Although the researchers focus was mainly on entry-level positions, it still helps to bring light onto the systematic employment discrimination of high achieving women in fear of them being “unlikable”.

  5. The research in this article did not come as a shock to me, despite the fact that it may be unfair. Throughout history, women have been known to have a “snappy attitude,” and not mix well with others, whereas men may appear to be more subtle when it comes to handling their emotions. However, I feel like men and women are both judged by different standards when it comes to hiring. A woman may be judged by her “likability”, but I believe a male with a moderate GPA could be judged in the same manner because men are often judged based upon how focused and disciplined they appear to be. There are different standards expected from men and women by nature. I do think this research proves that not only do women have to fulfill their own standards, but overcome those of their male counterparts as well which can cause us to fall behind.

  6. The talk of GPA’s have always interested me in the corporate and career world: some people say GPA matters more than anything, while others say that networking is what truly gets the job. Now I see where some of these biases stem from, our gender and likability as women compared to the “all-knowing” male. If males are expected to know everything, and women are just expected to be sweet, friendly and like-able, doesn’t anyone see what kind of pressure this puts on our society and the association with gender roles? Even though times are changing with more women are collegiately educated than men, we are seeing that our society does not support smart women, but it supports moderately smart, sweet, and like-able women. I understand we all need to be able to communicate well with others, however we should not be discouraged for attaining the same if not higher, GPA’s than men. I hope this data somewhat varies within the higher professional world, and that times will change, because this data only worries me. Our society is not subtle about womanly roles within society, and we have to continue our path of changing the world’s perception of us.

  7. I was definitely surprised by the outcome of this experiment. Throughout education both men and women have been pushed to succeed academically before all other things. Therefore, I would believe that if you have achieved academically, you will be able to obtain opportunities as you have shown competency in said field. Although I was aware of the gender gap in pay, I was not aware of the severity of the gender gap in employment. I understand that the first step is acknowledging the problem however, I continuously hear of the gender gap, but I hardly hear solutions to address it. I believe as a society we need to be more oriented to how we can fix this problem. There needs to be training for those who are in power to hire to remove these unconscious stereotypes about fields that women and men do better in and those who continue to make decisions based on these stereotypes need to be held accountable.

  8. In regards to this post, it is upsetting that to many people a woman’s intelligence is undervalued. I feel that the fact that the intelligence of women being undervalued can in a sense turn woman away from wanting to actively engage in intellectual things because likability is seen as more important. Honestly, I can not imagine being one of the woman candidates who was overlooked simply because I was not liked enough by many people. Through, the past four years I have worked extremely hard to guarantee myself a promising future so seeing post like this in a sense becomes disappointing, but I am optimistic that one day things will change.

  9. This reminds me of the engagement interview I had with Dr. Bowens-Jones. She is a highly educated, highly trained black woman who used to work as a section manager for P&G. She was extremely qualified for that position and fulfilled it well, but she told me a story about how she still had trouble because of male coworkers feeling threatened by working with a woman who had a higher degree than them. I felt like it got to the root of the problem of how leadership positions are traditionally thought of as reserved for men and in order to keep those positions open for men, it’s easier to hire women who are less qualified and may not strive to take that position and who are likable enough to not cause trouble.

  10. Unfortunately, the findings from the study do not surprise me. I too, have dealt with gender biases, especially in my current job. When I first got hired as an afterschool teacher, a male coworker of mine was hired as well. Even though my experience and background was with older children and his was not, he was chose to be the older children’s afterschool teacher/leader instead of myself. I was told by my manager that “the boys need a strong, dominant man as leader and role model.” Appalled, I took the position for Pre-K and Kindergarten since I was seen as the more nurturing between the two. It’s one thing having to go through gender biases from an employer, but seeing that there is data to back it up and there are others that could be going through it, is disheartening. I hope that employers would take the time to give women a chance in the job market and let go of unfair bias and gender standards.

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