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GPA Minimums May Be Spoiling Your Diversity Goals

A woman on a train looking at her reflection.

​Having new graduates provide their grade point average, or GPA, has long been an application requirement for early-career job candidates. But doing so could be hurting diversity recruiting efforts, according to Liz Wessel, the CEO and co-founder of WayUp, a New York City-based job site and resource center for college students and recent graduates. Liz Wessel

Wessel spoke with SHRM Online about the practice and whether GPA should be considered at all in the recruiting process.

SHRM Online: How prevalent are GPA requirements in college recruiting?

Wessel: About six years ago when we started, GPA requirements were used by about 80 percent of the companies we spoke with. For the companies that didn't have GPA requirements, the reasons were less data-backed and more anecdotal, like the hiring manager didn't believe they were necessary. Now, we see GPA requirements for less than 20 percent of the roles posted. More companies are dropping GPA requirements not because of personal reasons but because of data. The data shows that not only is GPA rarely correlated to performance, but that it is often a barrier to entry for a more diverse workforce.

SHRM Online: How does a GPA requirement hurt diversity?

Wessel: Companies come to us struggling to hit diversity goals, thinking their problem is at the top of the funnel, when the problem often is their funnel—it's what they use to evaluate candidates. For example, many companies have GPA requirements above 3.0. As a result, they are losing a substantial amount of Black and Hispanic candidates who may apply and be rejected due to GPA minimums, or who may not apply at all if they see the requirement.

And this negatively impacts diversity efforts. The data shows that Black and Hispanic students at universities statistically have lower GPA's than candidates of other ethnicities. I believe this is mainly because Black and Hispanic students also have less time to spend in a library.

A report from Georgetown University shows that 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 studying statistically correlates to a higher GPA.

We have more than 5 million 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:

  • Black 2.8
  • Hispanic 3.0
  • White 3.2
  • Asian 3.3

Employers auto-reject more Black and Hispanic candidates than white or Asian applicants because of their GPA requirements alone. I've seen this firsthand. With one Fortune 500 I can think of, around 40 percent of the candidates we would drive into their recruiting funnel were Black and Hispanic, but only 10 percent would get through to an interview. It turns out that so many candidates were being screened out solely because of their GPA, and it correlated at a much higher rate for Black and Hispanic candidates. Which is ironic because most hiring managers would far prefer a 3.0 student who worked throughout college than a 4.0 student who spent most of their time in the library.

Fortunately, several of our clients dropped their GPA requirements once we showed them their own data.

As a final anecdote: one of my favorite companies we work with told us they wanted to start using GPA minimums as a way to reduce their funnel. I responded by asking 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. It was also notable that both of those interns were people of color.

SHRM Resource Spotlight
Overcoming Workplace Bias

SHRM Online: Should the GPA of college students and new graduates be considered at all in the recruiting process?

Wessel: Potentially, if it goes under 2.0 for certain roles. If a candidate is a statistics major and applying for a job in statistics analysis, with a 1.5 GPA, that may be a big red flag about their commitment or knowledge of the field. Companies could use GPA to focus questions about the candidate's educational history, but it shouldn't be a pass-fail criterion.

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. That opens the door to subjectivity and a potential case of discrimination.

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 a difficult subject matter—possibly resulting in lower grades. If you're recruiting for your organization, which of these two candidates would you rather hire?

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.


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