Graduating to the Glass Ceiling: Study Shows Female College Students Lack Confidence in Career Prospects

Posted By Terri Williams on June 8, 2015 at 2:25 pm
Graduating to the Glass Ceiling: Study Shows Female College Students Lack Confidence in Career Prospects

According to a recent survey, female college students and graduates may not be as confident entering the workforce as their male counterparts. Women are not as certain that they will land a job, and even less confident that their first job will pay well.

While 81% of total respondents felt at least “somewhat confident” that they will find a job when they graduate, only 16% of female respondents were “absolutely confident,” compared to 27% of males.

There is also a gender gap in perceived expectations of pay. According to the survey, 48% of male students believe that their first job will pay over $50,000 a year. In contrast, only 33% of female students believe that they will make $50,000 or more at their first job.

The survey, conducted by Survey Sampling International, also asked graduates how important they thought their college degree was to their career success. Roughly 82% of males thought their degree had been vitally important. However, only 62% of female graduates believed that their college degree was essential to their career.

Why are female students less confident?

GoodCall contacted Lisa Kaess, founder and producer of Feminomics, to discover what factors might be driving these survey results. She began the conversation by saying that fewer females feel “absolutely confident” about many things as compared to their male peers. “When looking for a job, men will pursue openings when they do not meet all of the qualifications, while women remain reticent to apply if they do not match up exactly,” she notes.

However, Kaess says that all college graduates have reason to feel upbeat this year. The U.S. economy generated 3 million jobs in 2014, and job growth continues at a solid pace. She also notes that unemployment is currently at 5.4% – the lowest level since 2008. In addition, wages have started to rise. “That is important, because research finds that the economic environment in which graduates enter the job market impacts their lifetime earnings. And 2015 is a much stronger job market than five years ago,” says Kaess.

So – why are women less confident that they’ll earn $50,000 right out the gate? Kaess says it’s probably because those women did their homework. In 2014, the National Association of Colleges and Employers listed the average starting salary for college graduates in the mid $40K range.

Also, she says that some of the areas most in-demand, like STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), have historically had fewer female students. Women tend to pursue majors in the humanities, with corresponding jobs that pay much less.

Looking forward

“One factor that can help change this dynamic, regardless of major, is for women to negotiate their first salary,” says Kaess.  “Professor and author Linda Babcock has done extensive research showing that the majority of young men negotiate their salaries from the first job, versus a fraction of their female peers. This not only accounts for a chunk of the differential, but it can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a career.”  For female students who don’t know where to start, Kaess advises them to find help on campus, and also research online sources to find general salary ranges and specific salary information.

Although fewer female graduates tend to think their degree will make a difference, Kaess says whether this is a pro or con may depend on whether you see the glass as half empty or half full. “Women no doubt remain frustrated that although they have been outpacing their male peers in education for years, they remain behind in earnings, promotions, positions as senior executives, and corporate board positions.”

However, on the positive side, she says that college women may define success differently than their male peers, and may recognize that long-term career success depends on far more than their entry point.  “Many studies have found a high corollary between EQ – emotional intelligence – and career success.  How we manage ourselves, relate to others, and handle complex situations will help us create lasting friendships and career networks, handle tough times, and find satisfying work and life partners.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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