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Study: High GPA could work against young women job hunters

Written on Nov 1, 2018

All those hours put into studying and getting good grades could actually hurt, rather than help, young women in the job market, according to a new study.

The study, from The Ohio State University, suggests that employers place more value on the perceived “likability” of female applicants than on their academic success.

In comparison, male applicants with high grade point averages were twice as likely to be contacted by employers as women with the same grades and comparable experience and educational background.

The picture was even worse for women who majored in math. Male math majors who excelled in school were called back by employers three times as often as their women counterparts.

A different study of 261 hiring managers found that while employers value competence and commitment among men applicants, they are prone to gravitate toward women applicants who are perceived as likable – those who did fine, but did not excel, academically. This helps women who are moderate achievers and are often described as sociable and outgoing, but hurts high-achieving women, who are met with more skepticism, the study found.

The 2,106 job seekers in the study weren’t actual people; they were invented for purposes of the research, but the employers advertising for entry-level positions didn’t know that. Each “applicant” had a corresponding email address and phone number.

Study authors created resumes for freshly graduated job seekers of both genders, using names common to the regions where the applications were submitted. Some majored in math, an area traditionally thought of as male dominated; some in English, which skews female; and some in business, which is considered gender-neutral according to a survey conducted prior to distributing the applications.

The authors used an online employment database to find entry-level jobs that weren’t specific to the applicants’ majors. For each job posting selected, two applications were submitted – one from a man and one from a woman. Both applications included similar cover letters, academic history and participation in gender-neutral extracurricular activities.

When the study looked at callbacks based on gender alone, there wasn’t a significant difference. But disparities emerged when comparing men and women with GPAs in the A/A-minus range. Men were called back at approximately the same rate regardless of their GPA, but the callback rate dropped for women with higher GPAs.

On the high-achievement end, discrepancies were seen for math majors, but not for business or English majors.

The second part of the study, the survey of hiring managers, found clear evidence of discrepancies in how they perceived male applicants and female applicants when gender was the only thing that set them apart from each other.

The employers gave feedback on how likely they would be to hire an individual based on a resume alone. They also shared perceptions about individuals’ personal traits based on the contents of the resumes, including GPAs.

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. The authors noted that likeability is associated with moderate academic achievement.