Why graduate recruitment has a real problem with hiring women

Written by
Stephen Isherwood

11 Sep 2017

11 Sep 2017 • by Stephen Isherwood

Graduate recruitment has a real problem with the recruitment of women. “That’s a bit strong,” do I hear you say? Well, despite all our talk, the initiatives, events, well-crafted brochures, only 40% of graduates joining employer training programmes in 2016 were female. At least we are consistent. I’ve gone back through our figures for the last 10 years and the pattern is the same.

In my naivety I used to think only finance and STEM recruiters had a problem. But it’s pretty much everyone.

Only public sector recruiters match the demographic profile of the student cohort. Because if you thinking "my intake is ok because I’m at 50% or thereabouts", you need to think again.

Some 58% of female graduates who start work after their degree are female. Is the next excuse that medicine and nursing graduates skew the data? Nope, that’s not the reason either.

Some degrees do have a strong gender bias but not enough to significantly alter the talent pool that employers fish in. And for those employers that require strong A-level grades and at least a 2:1 degree, sorry boys, girls get better grades.

The picture gets worse if you are a law firm, as 64% of law students are female. I’d go as far as to argue that the engineers are better at this than the lawyers. An average engineering intake of 25% might seem poor, but as only 17% of engineering students are female, they are doing a good job with a limited cohort.

The engineers are doing a good job at attracting female students to apply. A closer look at our data suggests that the problem isn’t bias in the selection process. Most employers tell us women are more likely to get a job offer and that they are better at interviews and assessment centre exercises. The issue is they don’t apply in enough numbers in the first place. Creating good marketing materials isn’t enough.

Are females more cautious when applying?

As a bloke, I’m a bit hesitant to write this, as it’s a bit stereotypical. But I’ll risk it. Because one theory I’ve heard is that male students are more likely to make a speculative application; they apply while still unsure if the job is right for them; they’ll risk a punt.

Female graduates, so the theory goes, want to be more certain they are making the right career decision, so are more cautious. One employer told me that they increased the percentage of female applicants, and ultimately the intake, by extending their closing deadline.

The destination data suggests that there is something about a corporate graduate programme that is anathema to some women. As women are more likely to get graduate level work than men, is it that they work for smaller employers or take less structured routes into their career?

Because the data isn’t shifting, because what we are trying hasn’t worked, we need to look deeper at the reasons behind the gender imbalance. The problem of under representation of women at senior levels starts with the graduate recruitment market.

We should be better than this. Because one industry that does well at hiring female graduates is ours. Over 80% of graduate recruiters are women.