STUDENT LIFE / JAN. 25, 2015
version 2, draft 2

The Graduate Gender Divide


There is a well known pay gap between male and female employees when they enter the workforce. A recent study set out to explore the issue in more depth and revealed a distinct difference, both in how the genders begin their careers and how they perceive their careers mapping out.

The study found that female graduates are, for instance, 9 percent less likely to go into a graduate level job in their first foray into the job market. In absolute terms, this is 81 percent for women versus 90 percent for male graduates. This disparity then continued with the salaries of graduates, with male graduates earning around £4,000 a year more than their female peers.

The study, conducted by the Oxford University Careers Service, looked at the career progression of around 17,000 students in the first six months after their graduation. The research covered graduates from LSE, Durham University, UCL, Imperial, Cambridge, Bristol University and of course Oxford themselves.

The gender divide

The data suggests that a big factor behind this divide could be the attitudes of graduates upon leaving university. For instance, it emerged that male graduates tended to start thinking about their career much sooner than their female colleagues, with female students tending to focus instead on their studies and extracurricular activities.

What’s more, male undergraduates would often show greater confidence in their job search, which often translated into taking the initiative and approaching recruiters or potential companies directly.

"Recruiters tell us that they are keen to recruit and retain women, which made us focus our research on students’ attitudes and behaviours to see if we could learn what is causing this gap, and what programmes we might create to address the situation. For example, we developed (with sponsorship from RBS) and run a holistic development programme for 150 women each year, based on the award-winning Springboard programme for mid-career women – and are delighted that this programme is now running in several other universities," the researchers say.

What we want in a job

Similarities do exist, however, not least of which was in what graduates were looking for in a job. These included things such as an intellectual challenge, good work life balance and a desirable location.  Women were however found to be keener on job security than men, and were also shown to desire working for something worthwhile.

Interestingly, the authors believe that these gender differences may begin before students even reach university. The study included data from 42 schools, where over 3,000 sixth form pupils were quizzed on their own attitudes towards their careers. The results revealed a number of similarities with their undergraduate peers.

For instance, girls in sixth form reported much lower confidence levels than their male peers on a range of career related issues. They also reported significantly higher lifestyle influences, including working for a company who did good work in some way.

"Based on the emerging school pupils’ data, we are beginning to adapt some of our university student programmes for use in schools’, says Black. ’We have run a preliminary workshop with sixth form girls who wanted interventions starting as early as Year 7, to build and practice confidence, leading in later years to short modules focused on career, negotiating, assertiveness and marketing themes. We are planning to create some pilot programmes that would be available to any school. We also hope to extend our research to as many schools as possible," the authors conclude.

Hopefully, the insights from the study will allow professionals to start addressing the gender gap at a much younger age as it appears to have roots long before we actually enter the workforce.

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