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UBC study: women with great high school grades get the same leadership prospects as men with worse grades

The study cites previous research that shows labour in the home falls mainly to women which likely hinders their career
Woman leading group
A recent UBC study found that despite receiving better grades in high school, women on average have the same leadership prospects than men who did worse in high school.

One might think receiving stellar grades in high school would lead to more leadership roles in your career, but a recent UBC study says that simply isn’t the case.

The study was conducted by Dr. Yue Qian, an assistant professor in the University of British Columbia’s sociology department, along with Dr. Jill Yavorsky from the University of North Carolina Charlotte. The study, which focused on a group of nearly 5,000 people in the U.S. aged 57 to 64, examines high school transcript data and responses to career-oriented surveys taken from 1988 to 1998. In the study, leadership is determined by the number of people the study’s participants reported supervising at work.

Published in the academic journal Social Forces, the study found the disparity between the leadership prospects each sex experienced only kicked in after they became parents. Fathers with perfect high school grades supervised more than four times as many employees, on average, as mothers with equally stellar grades. At the lowest levels of high school GPA, fathers still supervised slightly more people than mothers.

“Before they become parents, the relationship between high school GPA and leadership at work is similar for men and women,” Yue Qian wrote in a UBC release about the study. “After they become parents, men start to reap a lot of the leadership returns from their academic achievement, but women do not.”

Citing previously conducted research, the study explains the “why” behind these differences. For one, women are more likely to take parental leaves or work fewer hours which leads to shorter job tenure and less work experience. The study also cites research that shows labour in the home falls mostly to women, which likely hinders their career prospects.

A potential explanation the study's authors discounted was the idea that men simply have a natural propensity to lead. If this were true, the difference should be observable even in high school in the students who served in the student government.

Two decades have passed since these surveys, but Qian expects to find similar trends when more recent data becomes available.

“Many gender research scholars have found that the ‘gender revolution’ has stalled in recent years, especially since the 1990s in the U.S.,” Qian said. “In Canada we find similar trends: the female employment rate, gender wage gaps, segregation of occupations, and women’s access to leadership positions are all areas where it shows.”

To combat these issues, researchers have recommended policy changes like the establishment of more robust work-family policies and implementing an anti-sexist curriculum within education systems. 

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