SMRS: Future Talent – let’s hear it for the boy


Mike Hoffman, Client Partner - New Business and Research at SMRS, talks about driving the message of equality into schools.

A few years ago, everyone suddenly realised the lack of women taking STEM subjects at university might be impacting the chances of recruiting female engineers. This linking of cause and effect has started to shift some of the imbalance in historically male-dominated industries. Now industry, government and trade bodies work together to drive the message of equality into schools.

The same cannot be said of those industries who face the opposite challenge: trying to recruit men to join female-dominated professions. There’s understandable nervousness about concentrating on male students when men are still doing better than women in the workplace overall: better paid, more board-level roles, and unfettered by parental responsibilities in a way women can only dream of.

Yet UCAS data show that another 20,000 men would be needed to redress the gender imbalance among nursing students, 7,000 in education, and 10,000 each in psychology and social work. This is within the context of far higher numbers of women entering higher education generally; they are now as likely to enter as men are to even apply.

Nursing, Social Work and Education are all now graduate professions. But those studying to enter them are studying for specific courses in order to enter those sectors. This means recruiters in these professions are all going after a very narrow band of students who have chosen degrees in Nursing, Social Work or Education/PGCE. The job of recruiting candidates to these courses falls not to the employers, but universities themselves. This means that employers are completely dependent upon university course recruitment to provide the future supply, and have no say in how that is achieved. They cannot address gender imbalance, if they can choose only from an overwhelmingly female cohort.

Some universities are trying to address this. At Queen’s University Belfast, a campaign to increase the number of male nursing students that includes targeting all-boys schools – which are more common in Northern Ireland – has prompted a rise from 6% three years ago to 10% today. But by and large, filling courses is more important than delivering the demographic of graduates that the market demands. Put simply, the people who recruit undergraduates are not incentivised to create a diverse workforce.

This is partly because the areas that struggle to attract men struggle to fill courses generally: Education (STEM and languages subjects especially), Nursing (witness the 23% slump in nursing applications in 2017 since the government discontinued bursaries) and Social Work. Courses that are struggling anyway, have bigger fish to fry.

There are some instances of serious thinking around this problem: the Institute of Education (IOE) has a programme of mentoring and men’s groups to provide support for male candidates outnumbered in teacher training. And Teach First, one of the biggest recruiters of graduate teachers, is running recruitment events at universities across the country that have been targeted particularly at male students in STEM subjects.

The Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), which works to support equality and diversity for staff and students in higher education, has established a gender equality charter mark to recognise institutions' commitment to advancing women's careers in the arts, humanities and social sciences. It also covers under-representation of men in certain academic disciplines. But still the overwhelming emphasis is on advancing women in male-dominated professions.

We need to be taking this seriously. If we don’t, we condemn the future care of some of our most vulnerable people to a profession with lower barriers to entry. What’s more, we assign a second-class status to professions where the majority of women actually work, in the name of focusing on the privilege of an educated elite. By treating investing in gender equality ‘nudging’ as zero sum – more women CEOs matter more than more male teachers – we’re actually doing the vast majority of the female workforce a disservice.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

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