There has been a rise in graduates reporting that their ethnic background, gender, social class or disability is holding them back from finding work, reveals research by Prospects at Jisc, home of the largest graduate careers website.

Prospects’ annual Early Careers Survey 2024 (published 30 May) of more than 6,000 students and graduates found increases across the board in respondents feeling disadvantaged due to a personal characteristic, with notable rises among male and ethnic minority graduates.

More than half (54%) of graduates from an ethnic minority background said they felt they had been disadvantaged in the job application process because of their ethnicity, compared to 43% in 2023.

Some 61% of respondents from a Black, African, Caribbean or Black British background said this, along with 53% of Asian or Asian British respondents, compared to 51% and 49% in 2023 respectively. There has been no change in responses from white graduates (8%).

While female graduates were more likely (15%) than their male counterparts (10%) to say they were held back because of their gender when applying for jobs, the proportion of men who said this was a setback this year has more than doubled – 4% of men and 10% of women in 2023.

Graduates also reported that they were disadvantaged because of their social class. Respondents whose parents didn’t go to university were more likely to say they felt held back (26% in 2024, and 24% in 2023) than those with parents who had attended university (17% in 2024, and 15% in 2023).

More people who identify as neurodivergent said they had been held back in the job application process with 20% reporting this compared to 14% in 2023. Meanwhile graduates setback because of a disability rose just 1% to 14%.

There were also more reports (7%) of people feeling hindered because of their sexual orientation (5% in 2023).

Ethnic disparity in job applications is evident in a report by Nuffield College which found applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds must send 60% more job applications to get a positive response from employers compared to their white counterparts.

Chris Rea, a graduate careers expert at Prospects for Jisc commented: “It’s concerning that more graduates are feeling the odds are against them and that there are stark differences emerging. We have also found young people, particularly disadvantaged groups, are struggling with motivation. The jobs market is particularly competitive and that could be having an impact on how they’re feeling.

“While graduates may feel disadvantaged this doesn’t mean they should be demoralised. Most employers strive to be more inclusive and see the benefit of diverse teams and it’s important that we get this message through to young people. Employers can help by being transparent about recruitment processes and any support they offer.”

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