Employers that recruit early talent and want to improve workplace diversity and inclusion (D&I) should tailor their recruitment activities more to students’ economic background, gender and ethnicity according to recent research.

With new graduate roles cut by 12% this year and internship/placements cut by 40%*, making the available jobs appeal to the widest talent pool is vital according to early talent attraction experts, RMP Enterprise.

Research commissioned by the company among more than 1,600 UK students across 74 universities has revealed a majority of students support the idea of employers working to attract people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and staging campus events designed specifically for women. Slightly fewer than half the students polled endorse similar approaches for different ethnic backgrounds.

But while being 95% in support of workplace D&I, students remain cautious about companies putting all of their efforts into positive discrimination.

Emma Miles, Client Partner at RMP Enterprise said: “Covid-19 is already affecting employers’ student recruitment plans this year. However, this is also an opportunity to rethink how to attract the best talent among students of all backgrounds. Because of the knowledge gap about D&I among employers, we’re providing new guidance based on the research to help them address the key trends and challenges.

The research has also revealed the top six factors that make an organisation genuinely diverse and inclusive.

Recruiting for D&I by economic background

Employers tailoring campus recruitment events and specific job roles at students from lower socio-economic backgrounds gets more support than taking either a gender or ethnic focus: 56% agree it’s a good thing, about a quarter are neutral while 19% disagree with aiming events specifically at this group.

However, support for actively targeting particular job vacancies at this group is lower. Only 40% overall think it’s a good thing and more disagree (30%), with the same amount being neutral.

Recruiting for D&I by gender 

More than half of students polled (52%), say companies recruiting on campus should create events

specifically aimed at women, while fewer than one-fifth (18%) disagreed. However, students show conflicting views on recruiters appealing to women for particular jobs: 34% are in favour, 31% neutral and about a third (35%) against this approach.

By ethnicity, a similar quantity (59% and 54%) of white students and BAME students agree with women-focused campus events. However, the 41% of BAME students who advocate employers aiming specific jobs at women outstrips white students by more than 50%. LGBTQ+ students are almost 25% more likely than their straight counterparts to agree with campus events aimed at women and almost 40% more likely to support women-targeted roles.

 Recruiting for D&I by ethnicity 

Almost half of all students polled (48%) agree that employers should appeal to students from particular ethnic backgrounds when staging campus events, while a quarter are neutral and 27% against. However, students are less keen on employers targeting jobs at specific ethnicities: more disagree (38%) than agree (32%), while 30% remain neutral.

Among BAME students, 54% agree with campus events run by employers for ethnic groups with 25% disagreeing. Targeting ethnic minorities for specific roles is supported by 40% of BAME students, with 30% against.

Emma Miles said: “Diversity and inclusion was already one of the top priorities for UK employers recruiting early talent into their organisations – and 96% of companies that are members of the Institute of Student Employers agree.

“However, companies must beware of skewing the recruitment process to hire people because of their race, gender or social class rather than their potential as a person and capability as an employee.

“The aim should be always to attract the right calibre of candidate and make sure that both the company and its vacancies appeal to students from any background.”

Emma Miles suggests that companies should make recruitment activities inclusive to students from all backgrounds, genders and ethnicities by, for example, increasing accessibility through hosting digital events, competitions and virtual assessment centres to ensure nobody is excluded for financial reasons (such as meeting travel costs to attend an insight day or assessment centre).

She adds: “Companies showcasing their D&I initiatives to potential employees – such as support for mental health and well-being – is an important part of attracting this generation of undergraduates.”

Top 6 diversity and inclusion factors for employers

With 95% of students overall stating that D&I is important in the workplace, the factors they believe exemplify diverse and inclusive employers are:

  1. Offering Interesting work

A diverse and inclusive workplace offers interesting work across all types of student applicants and is the most important factor for 92% of all students (more important than salary by almost 20 percentage points). Among different student ethnicities, the top five that say it’s very important are from the BAME community, followed by white Welsh/English in 6th and 7th places. It’s the most important factor among men (91%) while second most important for women (93%) and disabled people (91%)

  1. Providing a positive work environment

This is judged the second most important element for authentic D&I in organisations (91.5% of students). It ranks number one for women (94%) and second for men (87%) while disabled students place it joint first (92%).

  1. Having work that aligns with my values

Eighty-four per cent of students believe it’s very important to match work to their personal values. White Welsh students value this more than other ethnic groups (90%); however, BAME students follow closely, at 88%. This factor comes third most important for women and men, but with eight percentage points more for women (88%). Disabled people also place it third (84%).

  1. Providing mental health initiatives

Having mental health initiatives in organisations ranks more highly than salary among almost 80% of students overall, whether white or BAME. Four ethnic groups – black African/Caribbean, northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh – each show 100% support for this element of D&I. For disabled people, this comes joint first.

  1. Salary

Overall, salary is a motivator of high importance during job hunting for 74% of students. By ethnicity, white northern Irish students are most concerned about salary (88%), with 81% of BAME students saying it’s important. By gender, women and men both rank it 4th (74% vs 73% respectively) while it rates similarly for 67% of disabled students.

  1. Being part of a diverse workforce

This is very important for 56% of students overall, with fewer than one-fifth (17%) deeming it of lowest importance. BAME students share this view more strongly than the overall sample, with 65% saying it is important to them. Women put this factor in 5th place at 63%, a figure 23 percentage points higher than men, who place it 7th. For disabled students, this ranks fifth (59%)

Other factors contributing to a diverse and inclusive workplace – but considered less important – include:

  • Travel time to work (55% overall)
  • Flexible working times (44% overall)
  • Awards or accreditation for D&I (45% of BAME students would consider this when choosing an employer and 25% more LGBTQ+ students than straight feel it’s important)
  • Extra-curricular activities involving work (overall 33%, with white Scottish students most keen on socialising (45% found it important) and BAME students in second place (42%))
  • Prayer/multi-faith facilities (overall 24%, though important for 38% of BAME students)
  • Childcare facilities (22% overall)