GPA has long been used by organizations to assess the future success of early-career applicants, but is this an accurate indicator?
Would you rather a 3.3 student who spends most of their time in the library, or a 3.0 student who has 2 part-time jobs and is a full-time student? Most people I’ve met with certainly say the latter. And yet, many Campus Recruiters tell me they have a 3.2 minimum GPA requirement.
A report from Georgetown sheds light on the issue. According to their researchers, close to 70 percent of all college students work while in school, but low-income working students are disproportionately Black and Hispanic. As a result, these low-income students put in more working hours than their counterparts. This creates a socioeconomic-fueled GPA inequity, given that more hours in the library statistically correlates to a higher GPA.
This disparity is why, among other reasons, your company’s GPA requirement could be hurting your ability to hire qualified minority candidates.
At WayUp, we have more than 5 million early-career users on our platform, almost all of whom self-report their gender or race when completing a profile. We decided to take a look at GPA by race for undergraduates in their junior year of college. Here is a breakdown by racial group:
Native American 2.8
Pacific Islander 3.2
Mixed Race (2+) 3.2
This suggests that, since Black, Hispanic, and Native American students are more likely to come from lower-income households and therefore work longer hours while in college, their GPA suffers. While there are undoubtedly other influences at play, these factors coalesce to create an ‘Early-Career Catch 22’: underrepresented minority candidates’ grades are affected by the long hours they work, and this disadvantage is compounded when they apply for better-paying jobs—all because their GPA falls below a company’s requirements.
Since founding WayUp in 2014, we’ve seen this self-perpetuating cycle play out countless times: Employers auto-reject more Black and Hispanic candidates than White or Asian applicants because of their GPA requirements. I’ve seen this firsthand. When a client starts working with us, we report things like, “Your Black applicants are currently being rejected 72 percent more of the time than your White applicants, all because of one question: GPA.” We also frequently share the data behind other questions that also result in unconscious bias, but GPA is the most common one we see.
My most memorable recollection of when this plays out are when I’m with a client who decides to institute GPA minimums for the first time—usually as a way to limit the quantity of candidates they have to review. Most recently, one of my favorite (and certainly one of the most forward-looking) companies we work with told us they wanted to start using GPA minimums as a way to reduce their funnel. I responded by asking for them to share their three standout interns from last summer. They did, and then I asked them to look up those interns’ GPAs. Turns out, two of those three people would not have been hired if they had that minimum. Also notable? Both of those two interns were people of color.
Companies come to us struggling to hit diversity goals, thinking their problem is at the top of the funnel, when in reality, their problem is their funnel—it’s what they use to evaluate candidates. And usually it’s for understandable reasons: They get too many candidates in their funnel and need something objective to wash out a large portion of them.
That’s literally why we created Source, Screen & Coach—our flagship offering.
By setting a minimum GPA for early-career candidates, you’re inadvertently creating an employment test that disproportionately hurts certain applicants. And that’s highly problematic for a number of reasons.
First, employment tests cannot have a disparate impact on any particular group, or they may be viewed as discriminatory. For instance, if your organization makes an exception for even one candidate who doesn’t meet your GPA requirement, then it’s not applied uniformly, thus rendering the criteria void. That opens the door to subjectivity and a potential case of discrimination. So just to be clear: If your CEO’s nephew applies and gets the job and doesn’t meet the GPA minimums you have for everyone else, that could be the cause for unlawful discrimination.
This all leads to another question: How can you have a universal criterion when colleges assess students and apply curriculum standards differently? Dozens of institutions (like Brown) don’t even use a 4.0 scale, so it’s impossible to make an apples-to-apples comparison.
Also, students are allowed to choose classes that satisfy curriculum requirements. Some choose easier classes to pad their GPA, while more ambitious ones may challenge themselves with difficult subject matter—possibly resulting in lower grades. If you’re recruiting for your organization, which of these two candidates would you rather hire? (I’m speaking as someone who took Samba drumming class for four semesters at Penn, where all I had to do was show up to get an A. While I actually took the class because I thought it was fun, it wasn’t lost on me that it also helped me raise my GPA.)
Worst of all, some employers adjust the GPA minimum for particular schools. They will, for example, require a 3.2 for a candidate from what they consider a prestigious college, but a 3.4 for applicants from less ‘prestigious’ institutions. This is highly dangerous for organizations because it’s extremely subjective—and currently there’s nothing that legally supports this practice. Want the data to prove it? Harvard economist Raj Chetty's team found that 38 elite colleges have more students who come from families in the top 1 percent than students who come from the bottom 60 percent (families making less than $65,000 a year).
What does this all mean? To measurably and meaningfully move the needle with your diversity recruitment goals, it’s critical that your organization recognizes the unfair disadvantages that minority candidates are often up against because of circumstances often outside of their control.
WayUp’s goal has always been—and will always be—to get all early-career candidates hired, regardless of their race or gender. Removing GPA as a minimum requirement for your jobs gets us, your organization, and all early-career candidates one meaningful step closer to that goal. And you’ll be in great company, as many of the most prestigious and progressive companies have already done this.
How do you get through your high volume of candidates quickly and efficiently? Again, that’s literally why we built Source, Screen & Coach. Not only do we source and/or screen for our clients, but we use data every step of the way. We first work with an employer to figure out what you’re trying to assess for (such as the NACE Career Readiness Competencies); we work with you on a zero-bias screening and interviewing process (where we even conduct first round interviews); and then we measure your candidates at every step of your funnel to see if any race or gender are more or less likely to get past a specific question or qualification, so that you can at least make metrics-driven decisions or changes.
That’s what we think is the future of recruiting. Because no matter how good you think you may be at interviewing or assessing talent, one thing is clear: If your goal is to recruit more diverse candidates, you almost definitely need to change your process.