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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