Nowadays the majority of students would proclaim themselves feminists. If we were asked about the gender gap at university, we would probably assume that women are at a disadvantage. But actually, a report called Boys to Men by the HEPI revealed that in terms of academic achievement in higher education, it’s men who are under-performing.
According to UCAS, at the age of 18 women are much more likely to go to university – 35% more likely, in fact. That means 36,000 fewer men enter into higher education each year on average in the UK.
Once boys have been accepted onto a university course, there’s another huge gender gap: they’re more than 8% likely to drop out before they finish their first year than girls.
And more than 40,000 more women than men received first class honours for their undergraduate degree when the study took place in 2011.
However, this report doesn’t tell the full story.
After having left university, the tables turn and women in the workplace are left at a huge disadvantage.
“In all the meetings I go to, I never meet women,” says Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of Lastminute.com, to the BBC. The sad fact behind her experience is that women make up a total of less than 10% of all board and director level jobs in UK companies.
But if women at university tend to surpass men, why are female graduates being so undervalued?
The ‘glass ceiling’ is a term used to describe this trend. It refers to a barrier so subtle you can barely see it, and yet so forceful it stops women from climbing to the top of the ladder at work.
The largest factor is the gender pay gap, which according to the government’s figures for 2015 has decreased to 9.4%, the lowest it’s ever been (meaning a woman earns 94p for every pound a man makes). However, in work as managers, directors and senior officials specifically, there is an 18.9% gap between men and women’s pay.
On top of this, prejudice and discrimination are still rife in the workplace. Pregnant women often struggle to go back to their previous positions after maternity leave, and a survey found that 27% of bosses would have reservations about hiring a woman ‘of childbearing age’, simply to avoid the chance that she might become pregnant.
What’s more, a poll by The Everyday Sexism Project found that half of women had been sexually harassed or assaulted at work, and many admitted not reporting the incidents for fear of losing their jobs. Even something as seemingly harmless as an unfair dress code, or forcing women to wear uncomfortable heels until their feet bleed can inhibit women from reaching for higher roles.
While most research shows that opportunities for women in the workplace have been slowly increasing, it’s clear that there’s still a long way to go towards getting rid of the gender gap both at university and in the workplace.