DIFFERING WORKPLACE PERCEPTIONS OF FEMALE GRADUATES

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1 DIFFERING WORKPLACE PERCEPTIONS OF FEMALE GRADUATES Frederick J. DeCasperis, Ed.D Department of Marketing & Management Siena College ABSTRACT Female students under the age of 25 when receiving a bachelor s degree at our institution between were the focus a recent research study. The study assessed graduates attitudes and perceptions of the quality of their educational experiences and their subsequent workplace experiences. The study found the majority of these graduates thought highly of their academic experience and felt well prepared for employment. However, while there is current literature to support that women in the corporate world are now faring better when compared to their male counterparts than women were a decade ago, survey respondents as a whole perceived their ability to secure job advancement and increased financial compensation at a pace equal to male co-workers as a problem. However, when examining study data in a more segmented form, it appears that women holding degrees from the School of Science seem more satisfied with their workplace perceptions of advancement and compensation when compared to men than women from the Schools of Liberal Arts and Business.

2 DIFFERING WORKPLACE PERCEPTIONS OF FEMALE GRADUATES Traditional female students, defined as individuals less than 25 years of age upon receipt of their baccalaureate degree, are one of the fastest growing constituencies at colleges and universities. Women enrolled in undergraduate classes have grown more than twice as fast as men over the past two decades and women now earn the majority of diplomas [4]. My institution, a private, undergraduate college located in upstate New York, was originally established as a male commuter school in It remained a single sex institution until 1969, when the first females were admitted. In 1970 the College had 1404 (92%) male and 130 (8%) female students. In (50%) were male and 1395 (50%) were female. In 2005 the male population was 1322 (43%) and the female population grew to 1734 (57%). In 2005 a research study that queried all female students who were under the age of 25 when they received their degree from the College between the years was undertaken. The study was part of an effort to determine how these female graduates viewed the overall impact of their educational experience, and to determine how successfully they were able to compete in a job market where the vast majority of corporate leaders are men. It was designed to assess the attitudes and perceptions of these graduates as they related to the quality of their educational experiences and their subsequent workplace experiences. The following research questions were addressed: 1. Did the graduates indicate an increase in their general knowledge base and skill levels? 2. Would the graduates recommend the institution to others? 3. Did the graduates acquire specific knowledge and skills applicable to a career? 4. Did the graduates gain access to professional career opportunities and did they experience job satisfaction within those careers? 5. Did the graduates feel they were able to advance successfully within their chosen career? RESEARCH PROCEDURE FOR STUDY A Likert-style questionnaire, allowing subjects to respond with varying degrees of intensity using the five category range of very dissatisfied, dissatisfied, no opinion, satisfied and very satisfied, was used as the survey instrument. Sufficient opportunity was provided within the questionnaire for respondent comments. Questionnaire surveys were delivered to all 2443 females who were under 25 years of age when they graduated from the College between A total of 777 surveys were returned, representing a 31.8% return rate. All data were coded and analyzed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (S.P.S.S.). 2

3 There were 319 respondents (41.3%) from the School of Arts; 313 (40.5%) responded from the School of Business; and 145 (18.2%) responded from the School of Science. The response was in proportion to the overall female enrollment in the three schools. FINDINGS OF THE STUDY Overall, the graduates thought highly of their educational experience. Respondents expressed a 93.2% satisfaction rate with their ability to gain a broad general education and a 90.7% satisfaction rate with their ability to improve analytical and logical thinking. Improvement in the ability to learn on their own received a satisfaction rating of 91.6%, and 85.1% felt satisfied with their ability to improve an understanding of themselves. There were 81.7% who indicated they improved their ability to write clearly and effectively, and 77% felt they improved their ability to speak clearly and effectively. A total of 70% were satisfied with their development of leadership skills and 82.7% were satisfied they had gained knowledge and skills applicable to a career. The following include a sampling of comments made by individuals relating to their overall educational experience: The smaller atmosphere was significant in developing skills and abilities. Was a great experience; my internship led to my first career. Education was very good and helped prepare me for the real world. It was a Great atmosphere for learning about yourself. I left a well-rounded and confident person. Program shaped me into who I am today. The study also showed that the respondents were quite affirmative in their willingness to recommend the school to a friend or associate, with 92.6% indicating they would and the following include a sampling of the many favorable comments made by the respondents: I highly recommend it. Absolutely. I have many memories of my educational and social experiences. Always felt like a community; safe and positive. My four years were the best experience of my life. I would love my children to attend. It s a great school with a great campus. A total of 61.9% of the respondents reported that they were employed in an area related to their major field; 83.1% of respondents felt their educational experience helped them advance their career objectives; and 91.7% were satisfied with their ability to maintain a meaningful job. 3

4 When asked about their ability to secure career advancement and increased financial compensation when compared to women they worked with, respondents indicated a high satisfaction rate in their ability to be successful. A total of 87.1% were satisfied with their ability to secure advancement; and 85.5% expressed satisfaction in the area of financial compensation. There is current literature to support that women in the corporate world are now faring better when compared to their male counterparts than women a decade ago [5], [6], [7], [10] [11], [12]. However, when looking broadly at the overall survey results, respondents indicated that their ability to secure job advancement and increased financial compensation at a pace equal to men with whom they worked was perceived as a problem area. Satisfaction responses of survey participants were 72.4% and 64.1%, the lowest levels expressed in the survey. There is also literature to support this view. According to Leonhardt [9], throughout the 1980s and early 90s, women of all economic levels were steadily gaining ground on their male counterparts. However, since that time, women with a four-year college degree have stopped making progress and the gap between their pay and the pay of male college graduates has actually widened slightly. Canavor contends that women must bear some responsibility for the gender wage gap: It s excellent to want balance in our lives to nurture children, to spend fewer hours at the office and to want work that makes us feel good. But why be surprised if we don t make it to the corner office if these are our terms [2, p. 24A]. The following comments are examples of how respondents perceived the difficulty of competing with males in today s corporate climate: As a woman you cannot have a successful career and a balanced family life. Job titles and responsibilities may be the same but compensation is different. Have found males in roles at peer level and below making more money. There is still some bias out there and a lack of understanding of how men and women differ. I believe company you work for plays a large part in equal compensation for men and women. I make $20,000 less than male who held my job with less responsibility than I have now. They won t promote me because I cannot commit as much time as a male. I feel I am often taken less seriously than male counterparts. Men are paid higher in management to do the same job. Overall, women are at a disadvantage in the workplace. Felt I was under paid compared to men I worked with. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS The perceptions of the women responding to the study clearly expressed strong satisfaction with their quality of instruction and they were quite willing to recommend the experience to others. Respondents were also satisfied with their ability to maintain a meaningful job and were satisfied with their ability to secure job advancement and financial compensation at a pace equal to women they worked with. They were less satisfied with their advancement and financial success when they compared their employment experiences to male co-workers. 4

5 While we see current literature related to the American workplace is mixed, much of it seems to bear out the employment perceptions of the survey participants. When it comes to employment, entry into and advancement within the corporate world is often far from smooth [1], [11]. Krishnan [8] states that when women are in high-level management positions the wage gap between male and female workers narrows. However, many women tend to be concentrated in low-status industries and low-status managers don t have the same influence on women s wages. Collett [3] points out that U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stresses that in 2005, the usual median weekly earnings of women were about 81 percent of men and Sowa [13] notes that women have lower median weekly earnings than men at all levels, even for those with a professional degree. However, when looking at the data from the study in a more segmented form, it does appear that women holding degrees from the School of Science seem more satisfied with their workplace perceptions of advancement and compensation compared to men with whom they have worked than women from the School of Liberal Arts and the School of Business. Thus, it is the goal of this researcher to prepare a paper that examines this data in conjunction with current literature related to women employed in science fields to determine if this correlation is supported. REFERENCES 1. Abby, E., When it Comes to Salary, Many Women s Don t Push. New York Times, February 29, 2004, Money & Business, Canavor, N., Some Women Earn Less Than Men: Whose Fault is That? Long Island Business News, Vol. 52, Issue 15, April 8, 2005, 24A. 3. Collett, S., Gender Gap: Women s Paychecks Still Lag Men s. Computerworld, Vol. 40, Issue 46, November 13, 2006, Feller, B., Gender Gap Widens in College, with Women Often Ahead. Albany Times Union, June 2, 2006, A5. 5. Francese, P., Trend Ticker: Working Women. American Demographics, Vol. 25, March 2003, Hedgeman, C. Gen-X Women Set to Fill Leadership Gap. Albany Times Union, May 28, 2006, E3. 7. Hindo, B. & Sager, I., Women s Pace: Steady but Slow. Business Week, April 12, 2004, 14. Jones, D., Few Women Hold Top Executive Jobs, Even When CEOs are Female. USA Today, January 27, 2003, A1. 8. Krishnan, A., Equality Still a Ways Off. The News and Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina), October 22, 2006, E1. 9. Leonhardt, D., Scant Progress in Closing Gap in Women s Pay. New York Times, December 24, 2006, A Lewis, E., Women s Wages and Increasing Inequality. Business Review, Second Quarter, 2006, Sager, I. & Bernstein, A., Finding Out How Much Women Earn. Business Week, April 4, 2005, Sellers, P., It s Good to be the Boss. Fortune, Vol. 154, October , Sowa, A., Wage Disparity for Women Persists. The Bulletin (Bend, Oregon), February 5, 2007,

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