Career choice shaped by ethnic background


While an increasing proportion of white students in Britain dream of careers in publicly-funded organisations with index-linked pensions and a good work-life balance, those from other ethnic groups are far more likely to aspire to careers in finance or business.

This gulf in the career goals and industry preferences of different ethnic groups emerged from the Universum 2006 University Graduate Survey, which examined the aspirations and attitudes of 7,760 students in the UK.

The startling effect that ethnic background has on the career choices is most clearly illustrated by the fact that students of Chinese descent are four times more likely to harbour an ambition to pursue a career in banking or than their white counterparts.

Asked what they saw as their ideal career, a third of Chinese students plumped for investment banking as their first preference compared to a mere eight per cent of white students.

Four out of five of this group's top five ideal companies to work for are banks; HSBC tops the list, followed by Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, the BBC and JP Morgan.

Asian and Asian British students have a marked tendency towards IT companies and the pharmaceutical industry, with Microsoft appearing at number five on their ideal employers list and IBM ends up as number seven, higher positions by far than on the ranking lists of other ethnic groups.

Among students of Engineering, science and IT, respondents with an Asian or Chinese background are more inclined than others towards pharmaceutical companies – GlaxoSmithKline is the number one ideal employer of both groups.

In addition, AstraZeneca and Pfizer are ranked higher by Asian students than by future engineers of other ethnic backgrounds. In all, some one in six (16 per cent) of Asian respondents selected the pharmaceutical industry as their ideal sector to work in.

Amongst white students and students with a mixed ethnic background, government departments and the public bodies were most frequently cited as ideal employers.

For black students, diversity was the number one factor influencing their choice of employer and emerged as the number one determinant for half of those surveyed. Among white students, however, diversity considered a decision factor by only one in 10.

And for all bar Chinese students, that perennial favourite, the BBC, topped the lists of the most favoured employer.

Work-life balance is also more important to white students than others, with a retirement plan, paid overtime, extra vacation and personal days all important factors in career choice.

Those from Asian or Chinese backgrounds, meanwhile, prefer a performance-related bonus and healthcare benefits.

"Students are, broadly speaking, motivated by similar issues and trends such as working for successful, and more recently, ethical companies offering an international element and work-life balance," said Suneal Housley, Employer Branding Consultant at Universum Communications.

"However, there are still quantifiable differences between ethnic groups in the specific types of companies and compensation packages which perceived as ideal."

Similar disparities exist in students' choice of degree subject. More than a third (36 per cent) of Chinese and one in three Asian students opted for business-related degrees compared to only one in six (15 per cent) white students.

In contrast, half (48 per cent) of white students were enrolled on a humanities or liberal arts degree compared to fewer than a quarter (24 per cent) of Chinese students and a similar proportion (25 per cent) of Asian students.

"The questions that arise are complex ones: are these differences the result of cultural preferences being perpetuated within different communities? Or, do these figures represent a failure of some employers to address the interests of a more ethnically diverse talent pool?" Suneal Housley said.

"The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. There is more to be done by families, peers and companies to demonstrate the vast range of opportunities and offerings available to all graduates regardless of ethnic background."