The Graduate Career Gender Gap – Oxford University research

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We’ve been analysing what might indicate if a student gets a graduate level job; we hypothesized that it might be subject studied, degree class, gender, socio-economic background, ethnicity, disability or having had an internship. We ran the stats, reviewing all leavers from Oxford University for the last five years, and found that there is really only one significant indicator – gender. A lower proportion of women (84%) than men (90%) are in a graduate level job or further academic study, six months after leaving. (Incidentally, we are encouraged that socio-economic background is not an indicator…)

We went on to find that a similar gender gap exists at six other comparable universities. In total we looked at 17,000 student destinations and the mean proportions for the entire cohort are 81% for women and 90% for men.

We hypothesise that this is not due to lack of interest or encouragement by recruiters – our work with thousands of recruiters at Oxford shows that they are either indifferent or positively trying to encourage women to apply and then succeed at the application process.

So we turned to the students themselves and ran a survey of undergraduates’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviours.  What did they look for in a job? What concerns did they have about the application processes? And what do they already know about gender gaps in jobs?  About 900 answered the survey, split equally between men and women.

In terms of their current job search status, the two significant differences were that men start taking action earlier and women were more focused on academic/extra-curricular activities initially. Nothing specifically wrong with this but it might explain why, if men were starting the job hunting process earlier, that they have a head start and are landing graduate level jobs when they leave.

Next, we asked about what undergraduates are looking for in a job: intellectual challenge came out top, high pay was sub-median, and we were encouraged to learn that concerns about finding a role where they believed they would ‘be able to start a family…even if not immediately’ ranked lowest.

There were only three job features that showed statistically significant (p<0.05) differences between men and women: women ranked job security, work-life balance, and working for a cause they believe is worthwhile or serves the greater good, higher than men ranked them.

Finally we asked them about their concerns in the job process: women are more concerned about most of the steps in job hunting.  Maybe women are more aware of how difficult it is to get a job, maybe men are more blasé, whatever the underlying cause, the evidence does seem to underline the core higher confidence that (in general) men seem to have.

Finally, what can we do about this? First, raise awareness through blogs like this, discussions in the media and with students; second, run holistic development courses for women – we adapted and run a version of Springboard for 150 women each year and have rolled this programme out so that it runs at other universities; and third, create and run training modules for use in schools, with girls, boys or both, on assertiveness, self-awareness, self-marketing and communications.

Personally I think there may also be a lack of ambition in some of the women we surveyed, driven by a combination of men dominating high-flying jobs, few female role models, lower confidence/higher concern levels, and women self-selecting out of applying for the real high-flying roles. This is a complex and interrelated set of issues, in an area that is often led by assertion and anecdote. I hope our initial and ongoing research will help to contribute to the debate, with its current and growing statistical evidence from schools and universities.

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Jonathan Black
Jonathan Black is the Director of the Careers Service & Internship Office at the University of Oxford.

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