What Do Students Really Think About Diversity & Inclusion?

Posted by Conor on 26 May 2020

In 2019, 96% of ISE members cited diversity and inclusion (D&I) as one of one of the biggest priorities - and that hasn’t changed, even now against the backdrop of COVID:19. (Source: ISE Survey, 2019)

But what do students think about D&I? Do they even think about it? Are students aware of how much of a priority D&I is to employers, and how do they feel about the initiatives and efforts aimed at them?

We felt there was a knowledge gap. And so, we decided to get some answers.

Earlier this year, we surveyed 1,672 students from 74 universities across the UK to find out their thoughts about D&I. 

The 4 key trends from the research are as follows:

  1. There’s a disconnect between the importance of D&I and students’ understanding of it

  2. There are mixed feelings about targeting specific demographics for jobs and events

  3. Mental health support is a more important factor more important factors than salary

  4. A diverse workforce and diversity accreditations in the workplace are very important considerations when searching for jobs

Let's break them down...


Mixed disconnect between the importance of D&I and students understanding of it

From our research findings, 95% of students said D&I is important when considering career opportunities.

However, 48% of students didn’t know why employers asked for their diversity information. 

48% of students didn’t know why employers asked for their diversity information.

This means if you are asking for information such as ethnicity, gender or religious beliefs at the point a student submits an application, just under half of them do not know why you are asking this!

When we asked students why they thought employers ask for their personal information, 61% think it is to see how diverse the candidates coming through are and 54% said it was to select more diverse talent. On the other end of the scale, 2% just think employers are being really nosy! 

Some of the comments were even more alarming, with 97 students specifically saying employers needed their personal information to fill quotas. Even more worrying, 12% said it’s to identify who WON'T FIT IN, rising to 20% for BAME students. 

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Be clear about why you are asking for diversity and inclusion information

With many employers capturing personal information at the first point of engagement or during the application process, it’s important to educate students and be really clear on why you need this information in the first place. This will help to reduce any uncertainty around why you need the data and will prevent BAME students thinking the information is being used against them.



Mixed feelings about targeting specific demographics for events and for jobs

Most employers and universities will run events targeting specific demographics, such as by degree, gender or ethnicity. Our research shows that students have mixed feelings about this.

52% of students agreed that targeting females for campus events was a good thing. And the positivity was shared equally among male and female respondents. 

“I think targeted events are great: such as tech related ones for women, since women don't tend to be encouraged to look into it as much.”

When it comes to events and jobs that are targeted at specific ethnicities, slightly fewer than half the students polled endorse similar approaches for different ethnic backgrounds.

“I don’t think that students from particular backgrounds should be ‘specifically’ targeted (positive discrimination) but it is very important that companies make sure to promote themselves and make themselves accessible to all students of all backgrounds equally.”

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Consider the types of events you run on campus

Trend #2 tells us that there are mixed feelings about targeted events and jobs, with targeting students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds the most favoured. 

Being mindful about how accessible your events are to students from all walks of life is important. Virtual events are likely to increase due to COVID-19 but also from a D&I perspective, moving events to a digital platform can make them more accessible to a wider audience. 

In Spring, we ran virtual events and campaigns for employers looking to engage earlier and build their brand and they were fantastic at reaching a wide demographic of students.

We’re also looking to facilitate ‘open door events’ where all students can have access to content about jobs AND wellbeing initiatives, to showcase how employers are supporting students from all backgrounds. If you’re interested in finding out more drop your account manager a line or contact us here.


Mental Health support and interesting work are more important considerations than salary 

We asked students what their most important considerations were when considering job opportunities. They were...

  • Positive work environment (92%)

  • Work being interesting (92%)

  • Mental Health support and initiatives (79%)

The priorities also change based on different demographics. For example, as you can see in the image below, a positive work environment was the most important consideration for females, LGBTQ+ students and BAME students.

Whereas, for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, interesting work was their top priority.

tableFor students who declared a disability, 92% said mental health provision was their top consideration. 

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Are you showcasing the right information to students?

With students favouring a positive work environment & mental health support over salary, it’s more important, now more than ever to showcase these aspects when marketing your opportunities. 

EYEnsuring students receive the right messaging is crucial. We partner with EY using our Talent Communication Platform, RMP Connect, to nurture female students in their pipeline and make them feel confident in applying. 

We showcased specific female case studies and leadership stories in a series of nurturing emails; the aim was to increase the applications from females and make them feel included and confident throughout the process. 

The key message is that it’s not one size fits all.  The more targeted you can be with your messaging to each demographic, the more effective your marketing efforts will be. 



Diversity in the workplace is a BIG consideration for students

A diverse workplace was seen as important or very important to the majority of students when considering who to work for.

63% of students from lower-socio economic backgrounds and 65% of BAME students said that workplace diversity is a very important consideration. They also said it is important for organisations to have accreditations that showcase this, as well as being representative.

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Are you showing how important D&I is to prospective candidates?

The students want to know how important D&I is to you, so get your accreditations and badges all over your attraction material to show your commitment.

Another important factor is who is representing your brand at events. Is your diverse workforce visible to early talent? If you do not currently have a diverse workforce, how can you still show students that it is important to you? Being able to shape your attraction activities around initiatives, such as wellbeing and mental health, will go some way to showing students how important it is in your organisation.

Finally, a HUGE thank you to everyone who supported this research and helped us  distribute the survey far and wide.

D and I Survey Blog Header3

We’ll be publishing the full diversity & inclusion research report in June so do let us know if you’d like a copy. We’d love to support your attraction needs so please get in touch with your account manager for a virtual coffee or contact us here.