30% Club announces results of Students’ Aspiration Survey

Survey reveals that female students fear entering “gendered” job sectors, while both male and female students believe that getting to the top of their chosen career will be the greatest challenge 

London, 10th March 2015 – The 30% Club today announces the results of the Students’ Aspiration Survey. The survey, the first of its kind, was piloted at the University of Cambridge throughout January and February and encouraged students to answer a series of questions on university culture and perceived career support. It was intended to provide insight into how students aged 18-25, particularly women, feel their university experiences shape and influence their aspirations for the future.

The survey of over 1000 respondents found that 52% of female students were hesitant to enter “gendered” sectors, while only 18% of men were similarly hesitant – a surprising differential given that both men and women felt that the workplace culture in a “gendered sector” would be hostile and unsupportive. Women believed that their opportunities for career progression would be limited because of their gender and that working within a “gendered” sector would not allow the flexibility they may want, whereas men were less concerned and generally more confident about entering the working world.

Speaking at the University of Cambridge’s Delivering Equality Summit yesterday, where key findings from the survey were presented, Helena Morrissey CBE, Founder of the 30% Club and CEO of Newton Investment Management, said: “I’m delighted we’ve taken this first step towards establishing what students, particularly women, aspire to before they enter the workplace, and how confident they feel about that prospect.”

The survey also revealed that there remains a proven tendency for men and women to choose industries traditionally associated with their sex: for example, 30% of women were considering entering Charity or third sector work, while only 8% of men were considering the same. Similarly, 26% of women were considering Retail, Hospitality and Entertainment, compared to just 12% of men. 11% of men, meanwhile, were looking at entering Construction and Manufacturing, with only 4% of women considering the same sector.

Interestingly, just under 50% of females felt that society still expected women to put family before career, with respondents feeling that they had to choose between having a career and having a successful home life.

Melanie Richards, KPMG UK Vice Chairman and a founding member of the 30% Club Steering Committee said: “As businesses we have an obligation to tackle the perception that a successful career and a happy family life are seemingly incompatible. This means taking practical steps to understand and tear down the barriers that the next generation of our workforce perceive to be present.

“Unless we as employers listen and take action we are at risk of seeing a whole raft of talented individuals opt out of reaching their full potential.”

The survey also suggests that student self-confidence in general might be at an all-time low. Respondents were asked to rank how difficult they thought it would be to achieve various milestones in their lives, including getting to the top of their career, getting a good result in their degree and finding a job that they enjoy – overwhelmingly they ranked these milestones as either ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’. More women than men considered it would be harder to get to the top of their chosen career. More optimistically, both men and women considered that having children would be ‘neither easy nor difficult’.

In respect of careers advice the survey showed that men and women were evenly matched in their views, with the majority of respondents responding neutrally. Comments from the survey revealed, however, that exposure to roles within different industries would help with making career decisions, as would more one-on-one careers advice in schools and ongoing counselling.

Helena Morrissey said: “In looking to analyse student ambitions, this survey – the brainchild  of  Helena  Eccles who’s  an undergraduate at Cambridge– is key to improving the diagnosis around the subsequent career divergence of men and women. With huge thanks to KPMG for their support to date, we now look forward to rolling out the survey more widely and building an action plan to address some of the issues raised.”

Helena Eccles, Founder of The Students’ Aspiration Survey, said: “It has been really exciting to see the survey take shape and launched for its pilot in Cambridge. I’m hugely grateful to KPMG for their support in rolling it out and to Helena Morrissey for her championing of the idea. The results show that it is a vital piece of research; women believe that their opportunities for career progression will be limited because of their gender. These concerns, now highlighted by the survey, cannot be ignored. I now look forward to action taking place in light of this research.”

The headline results from the survey were announced by Helena Morrissey at the University of Cambridge’s Delivering Equality Summit on Monday 9th March.


For more information, please contact:
Jamie Brookes, MHP Communications +44 20 3128 8529/07769 900 417
Georgina Whittle, MHP Communications +44 203 128 8528


Gay Collins, +447798 626 282

Francoise Higson, Newton Investment Management