Ohio State sociologist Natasha Quadlin set out to study the effect of high academic achievement on women's employment, so she created 2,106 fictional job applicants, half male, half female, across a spectrum of GPAs and college majors, and submitted them via common recruiting sites.
Quadlin found that men with high GPAs attract more job offers than low-GPA men, but that women are penalized for having higher GPAs, especially women who major in math.
After surveying employers, Quadlin concluded that hiring managers look for men who are "competent and committed," but evaluate women based on how "likeable" they are, and prefer "moderate-achieving" women who are "sociable and outgoing."
The survey experiment highlights some potential mechanisms that explain why employers think about achievement and gender the way they do. The quantitative portion of the survey experiment shows that employers shift their standards to reward different perceptions among men and women applicants. Men are more likely to be called back if they are perceived as competent and committed to their jobs—traits that are typically ascribed to the “ideal worker.” Women, however, are more likely to be called back if they are perceived as likeable—an assessment that is more or less irrelevant to men’s employment outcomes. The qualitative data reveal that while moderate-achieving women are often viewed as likeable and socially skilled, employers are more skeptical about high-achieving women’s personalities. These negative perceptions of high achievers contribute to the inverted U-shaped effect of achievement for women. Further, the audit study and survey experiment together rule out the explanation that high-achieving women are passed over for jobs because they are viewed as overqualified. This positive take on women’s penalty for high achievement, which one might expect given employers’ incentives to promote gender equality, is countered by findings that suggest employers view women with high grades in a negative light.
The Mark of a Woman’s Record: Gender and Academic Performance in Hiring [Natasha Quadlin/American Sociological Review] [Sci-Hub mirror]