Women Face 'Likability Penalty' in Recruiting

Strong academic records benefit men far more than women.

When is listing a high grade point average on a résumé not necessarily a good thing? When you’re a woman, says a researcher from Ohio State University in Columbus. In two studies, assistant professor of sociology Natasha Quadlin finds that not only do women not benefit from strong academic records as much as men do, but that in some male-dominated fields, women with high GPAs might actually suffer a “likability penalty.”

Quadlin submitted to potential employers 2,106 job applications, with profiles that represented applicants with different GPAs, genders, and college majors. She found that female applicants were rewarded for moderate achievement but not high achievement. High-achieving men received nearly twice as many callbacks from employers as high-achieving women. High-achieving men who had majored in STEM fields received nearly three times as many callbacks as high-achieving women who majored in those same fields.

“STEM achievement is unlikely to help women advance in the labor market as long as employers continue to penalize this group,” says Quadlin. “Over time, we might expect these penalties to diminish as more women enter and succeed in STEM majors.”

In a survey of hiring decision makers, Quadlin discovered that their hiring patterns likely were the result of employers applying different sets of standards for male and female applicants. That is, when vetting male applicants, employers value competence and commitment; when vetting female applicants, they value likability.

“My research demonstrates the many and varied penalties high-achieving women face in the entry-level labor market, as well as the gendered stereotypes that allow these penalties to persist,” said Quadlin. “Further change is needed for women to make comparable advances at work.”

“The Mark of a Woman’s Record: Gender and Academic Performance in Hiring” was published in the March 2018 issue of the American Sociological Review.