Why young women must think big

Here’s a conundrum: do expectations drive outcomes or do outcomes shape expectations?

Universum, a Swedish branding company, recently researched graduate career expectations in Europe’s “top 100 academic institutions”.

The survey, Europe’s Ideal Employers 2011, was based on nearly 20,000 students, with 135 nationalities represented in the sample. Gender differences were marked. While both men and women rated Apple the second-most desirable employer – after Google (for men) and L’Oreal (for women) – women were more strongly drawn towards brands specialising in fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), while men preferred the automotive and banking sectors.

Salary aspirations for women were on average €8,600 ($12,300) lower than for men, while 34 per cent of men declared an ambition to be a manager or leader compared with just 22 per cent of women.

“Closing the gender divide must start with educating Europe’s female graduates to demand much more,” the report concludes. But perhaps women are simply reflecting the reality of the workplace. FMCG companies have made greater strides in attracting and promoting female talent at all levels up to the board than automotive companies, for example, and salary surveys continue to show that women earn less than men.

The pay gap has been shown to be as marked for high fliers as for manual workers. Newly minted MBA graduate salaries are alarmingly gender-based, as discussed recently here.

It is something of a Catch-22. What I believe, however, is that women will be encouraged to be more ambitious and more adventurous in their career aspirations if they see women 10 and 20 years their senior in leadership positions. Companies that continue to close the boardroom doors to women are increasingly at a disadvantage in the race for talent, and it starts at graduate-entry level.

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.