Geek Feminism Wiki

Women with high GPAs at school find it difficult to assert their position at the top of the class when it comes to co-op applications, due to the Freedom of Information Act that forbids the release of transcripts to employers. While the internship and co-op pipeline into a company can be one solution to getting more women

Co-op Bingo

into the IT industry, it is still not meritocratic.

  • The Freedom of Information Act makes it easier for male students to lie about their GPA to get ahead, since they do not receive the same sort of scrutiny and suspicion women get when they try to enter the field.
  • Even if the woman voluntarily provides her transcript to employers, this only proves her high academic standing and not relative high academic standing if other students lie about their GPAs and are not asked to present proof of it. The experience is similar to getting nerfed in a MMORG. Male programmer privilege, in contrast, is a buff.
  • This issue typically gets ignored or unexamined due to the reputation of IT being a pure meritocracy.
  • The job placement process, while excluding objective GPA information, will often include letters of reference or recommendation, which have been shown to contain gender biases. This removes agency from the individual woman and places more power in authority figures that communicate with each other in the absence of the applicant.


  • When the issue is brought up by a woman, she can be treated with hostility and suspicion by the co-op department as though she were the one considering cheating, when she is in fact the one with the high GPA that is concerned about others cheating. This is a similar pattern of behaviour to "You're the sexist". It may also be more nefarious because it also carries the assumption that the woman had a low GPA (Condescension) and was therefore motivated to cheat.
  • The issue can also be addressed with splaining, in which co-op departments concede that inequalities exist but they also exist in the "real world," as though all students are naive and have yet to experience inequalities (despite having grown up with them in other forms).
  • The problem can be addressed with a response of, "But there is no proof others cheat," or "I didn't see it happen," (similar reaction to the Male experience trump card). However, the college or university can easily compare student transcripts with the data students enter into the college co-op system, and thus catch the culprits internally before they gain an unfair advantage in a work placement interview. This problem would then be resolved without the need for releasing transcripts. (The academic institution that this Wiki editor attends does not currently perform this check.)
  • Another way to derail and oversimplify the problem is to say, "But what if 5 people have the same GPA, then what?" The obvious answer is that an employer would use other forms of evaluation as a tie-breaker. Still, competing with 5 people that legitimately earned their high GPA is much different from competing with an entire undersupervised pool of applicants that could be lying about their GPAs.


Another way of splaining is, "But the GPA is not everything."

  • Some workplaces place importance on soft skills, leadership skills, and other qualitative things. However, as women were historically perceived as being weaker than men in logical subjects, she must prove herself to achieve parity with men in the IT field, even if this is not explicitly asked of her in an interview. If she places too much trust in the interviewer to do the right thing, she risks being passed over for the job. On the flipside, any healthy and informed level of suspicion and vigilence is labeled as being "negative" and undesirable.
  • Women in male-dominated spaces have great difficulty expressing their "people skills" if they are ostracized or othered for being women or for possessing an "unfeminine" personality. High-achieving women can be penalized for their own success in this sense. Depending on the situation, one's technical skills could be all what one has to fall back on.
  • The GPA is fairly important if you're a student with limited work experience.
  • Measuring students by GPA is not a perfect way to measure them by, but it is more consistent than evaluating Open Source projects, which are judged on a case-by-case basis and more subjective, even sexist. Underprivileged students can also win scholarships to attend school but not receive any resources to help them contribute to Open Source projects (issues with time and money). Of the two options, judging an applicant by GPA is closer to a blind audition in a musical performance.

Societal and structural issues

  • Most students also have limited work experience relevant to the field. This places a high emphasis and importance on the interview process, where women are at a disadvantage to men, and where evaluation methods and practices can be very inconsistently applied, unlike in the actual academic coursework. Many issues identified on the Male Programmer Privilege Checklist can be brought into action at this step in the process.
  • Inability to leverage proof of a high academic standing (if students lie about theirs and erode her advantage) robs a woman of something she could have been able to use to counter the stereotype threat.
  • This bug in the system is one hard structural problem to fix due to legal and privacy issues. (The ombudsman told this Wiki editor that a systemic problem against women exists but he can't do anything about it. However, if another university/college comes up with a brilliant, innovation solution to this problem, others adopt it, and it becomes the norm, he would work to have his own academic institution join the bandwagon. This simultaneously says something about a willingness to act but also a reluctance to).
  • Another obstacle: If other colleges/universities do not stop their students from lying, the students from colleges/universities that do will be at a disadvantage. This would give male students an(other) incentive, on top of preserving male privilege, to silence any female student that attempts to change the current system at their particular school, since students from different schools are in competition with each other for the same local work placements. (Parallel to Harming the community). Change has to be applied consistently if it is applied at all.
  • The burden is for women to correct the inequality, while simultaneously maintaining high academic standing, since the administration seems resistent to change. This takes time and resources and is culturally seen as a form of protest rather than celebrated as an extracurricular activity to put on a resume. ("Hi there, my hobby was fighting sexism so you would hire me.") The activity is also not seen as geeky enough, despite the fact that identifying holes in the meritocracy myth is an intellectual exercise.
  • Co-op placements are also not guaranteed, and college/universities let students know this and take no responsibility. It is entirely possible for a female student with a 3.90 GPA to lose a job to a 2.80 GPA male student and not gain employment during tough economic times when co-op placements are scarcer. The band-aid solution offered to students in the face of scarcity is to network, which is also problematic for women in IT, especially when co-op departments advise networking with other students (ie. the competition).
  • The co-op phenomenon could also be considered a Glass Door to female students, which is ironic since its purpose was intended to give students a way into a company. Unless this problem is addressed, co-op programs can serve to be merely a carrot on the end of a stick to increase female enrollment in technical departments. This makes the numbers look good on a school's promotional materials, while simultaneously not following through on the end result of equality in the workplace.
  • The co-op phenonemon has parallels to the Glass Cliff for academically high-achieving women (not giving her enough resources to succeed and placing her in a precarious situation). Due to the privacy law, colleges/universities must withhold evidence of a woman's high relative academic standing and place all responsibility on her alone when it comes to combating sexism at the interview process. Academically successful women are also at a greater risk of being penalized socially, so they face unique networking challenges.

Other considerations

  • The duration of a co-op placement may fall short of the required years of experience it takes to get a typical junior programming job, ie. (8-month placement versus a 2-year experience requirement). Graduates of a co-op program are not necessarily immune to the catch-22 situation of "Not enough experience, can't get a job to gain experience" that most grads face. In this step of the process, the situation has parallels to the Leaky Pipe phenonemon (or a blockage).
  • Companies interested in using a moving-goalposts tactic may raise the experience requirement for junior positions to just beyond co-op term durations, while letting others through the barrier.
  • This leaves the female job applicant vulnerable, between companies, if she is not hired at graduation by the same company that hired her during her co-op term, to build on her experience.
  • Co-op departments interested in social justice would do everything in their power to place a female applicant in a good, reputable company or organization and, if she is academically successful, emphasize her position at the top of the class.