Most young women think their gender will affect their career path and pay

Retraining for a new career


More than half of women students think their gender will have a bearing on their future career and pay and rewards compared to around a quarter of men, according to a new study.

The first Think Future Study by the 30% Club found just 42% of women are confident that their gender will have no bearing on their career progression compared to 72% of men and that just 43% of women express the view that gender will have no future bearing on their pay and reward compared to 73% of men. This is despite the fact that more than three quarters of women are confident in their own ability to advance their careers.

The study, which is based on responses from over 10,000 students aged 18-25, also looked at whether gender might affect what sectors they chose. When asked what career path they would like to take, the most popular choices amongst respondents was to pursue academia or education. Just 12% of students surveyed were considering going into financial services, with health, education and arts & entertainment among those sectors ranked higher. However, there was a disparity between men and women’s choices with men putting financial services and science and technology in their top sector choices, while women put health and education in theirs.

Some 55% of women polled said that the reputation a sector has for gender equality would influence their decision about working in it. This was less of an issue for men, with only 27% considering gender equality as a requirement for working in an industry.

It finds that 93% of students want to have a career that makes a difference and 72% want to earn a high salary. Just 40% of students see power and status as important. ‘Finding a job I enjoy’ was the most popular answer to the question what is important to you. The report states: “[Generation Z students] clearly value jobs which create meaningful impact more than high-status professions.” The survey found men and women surveyed have similar career priorities around work-life balance and finding pleasure in work.

The survey also found that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are the most driven to succeed, but the least informed about career paths. Students whose parents did not attend university are three times as likely as students with university-educated parents to say that they are unsure about career choices. They are also most likely to choose the retail sector as their immediate career destination.

The survey makes recommendations for universities, employers and students. For employers its recommendations include:

– When women first enter the workplace, pay attention to how they express what they are good at and help them to establish their individual contribution to work in concrete terms. It says: “Men have a tendency to claim achievement as their own – whereas women will use language that may be more accurate in specifying their contribution – and this has the relative effect of downplaying their individual
contribution in favour of the collective effort.”
– Monitor gender imparity in relation to promotions and developmental moves such as secondments. Consider how your organisation identifies talent.
– Ensure female graduates are enabled to express their achievements individually.
– Make sure your definitions of ‘talent’, ‘competence’ and ‘capability’ are not constructed in ways that penalise young women through a biased view of behavioural confidence right at the start of their career.
– Show your workplace offers real purpose.

It recommends that universities focus on shaping the aspirations of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, collaborate with employers and emphasise skills that improve employability. It suggests students should not be afraid to make career choices and proactively identity purpose in the work they are doing and plan to do.

The survey, sponsored by KPMG, was piloted at Cambridge University as the Students’ Aspiration Survey in January 2015, and revealed that female students are significantly less confident than men in their ability to advance their chosen career to senior level. Over half of female respondents were hesitant to enter “male gendered” sectors, such as financial services, as they felt that the workplace culture would be hostile and unsupportive. In addition, 30% of women felt that negative and inaccurate assumptions were made about their level of ambition due to their gender, and just under 50% of women felt that society still expected them to put family before a career.

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