Graduate schemes are stunting diversity, limiting accessibility and perpetuating bias

Thursday, 15th August 2019

Guest blog by Tempo

Tempo has set out to understand whether or not graduate schemes are fit for purpose. Are they attracting the best talent for your company? Are they allowing you to tap into a wide pool of talent?

As we received the insight we pinpointed three recurring key themes. The first is that graduate schemes are stunting diversity, limiting accessibilty and perpetuating bias.


Our research shows that 61% of recent graduates believe graduate schemes are tied to more traditional businesses and give the perception of businesses having an outdated notion of the workforce.

Graduate employers are placing increasing focus on recruiting a more balanced workforce from a wider range of backgrounds. According to High Fliers, 76% of graduate employers say that achieving diversity targets is their biggest challenge. Many top employers rely on graduate schemes to attract and retain young talent and it’s increasingly important to consider graduate schemes’ role in promoting a diverse workforce. If candidates perceive your career opportunities as outdated, there’s a huge risk of losing out on the best talent.


Recruiting employees from different backgrounds has numerous business benefits. Encouraging collaboration amongst diverse teams will expose employees to varied skill sets and fresh perspectives, fostering a more innovative and creative work environment. According to Josh Bersin research, inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovative leaders in their market. Diverse, collaborative teams also experience a 60% improvement in decision making; a vital feature in a working world that demands agility from companies in order to stay competitive.

An inclusive working environment plays a vital role in employee attraction and retention. If employees feel represented within an organisation they will feel more valued and thus less likely to leave. High turnover is incredibly costly and damaging to an employer’s bottom line with the cost of replacing employees at an average of £11,000. An inclusive work environment also plays a role in attracting a diverse pool of talent organically, reducing an employer’s recruitment costs. If candidates see their perspectives and backgrounds as being valued and represented within a company they will be more likely to seek out and apply for roles within that organisation.

A workforce that embraces diversity and incorporates employees that reflect the demographic of society will not only allow businesses to have a better understanding of their customers but also provide insight on how to recruit new customers. In fact, companies with diverse workforces are 70% more likely to capture new markets. In a customer-first world, a better understanding of your customer base is key in designing products and services better suited to their needs.

Taking into consideration the impact diversity has on driving business growth and attracting and retaining employees, it is unsurprising that diversity has a tangible impact on a company’s bottom line. Mckinsey’s research found that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Equally, companies with more culturally and ethnically diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to see better than average profits.

As employers look to hire the next generation of talent and leverage the benefits of a diverse workforce they need to consider generational mindset shifts. In 2025, Gen Z will make up 75% of the workforce and for this generation, diversity plays a key role when looking for the next step in their career. In fact, 63% of Gen Z feel it is most important to work with people with diverse education and skill levels and an additional 20% think that having people of different cultures is the most important element to a team; a commitment to promoting diversity has never been more important. Businesses not only need to ensure they attract talent from varied backgrounds but also that their recruitment strategies are enabling them to do so.


Are graduate schemes an effective way for employers to attract and promote a diverse workforce?

Our research of 1,035 recent UK graduates indicates that graduate schemes create a perception of an outdated employer brand with 61% of recent graduates believing graduate schemes are tied to more traditional businesses. There is also a perception that graduate schemes actively limit accessibility to those from varied backgrounds with 39% of those who are applying or have applied for graduate schemes feeling that they should be more accessible for people with different educational qualifications, disabilities or ethnic minorities.

This perception of limited accessibility is reinforced by the pool of candidates hired through graduate schemes. Research by the Institute of Student Employers indicates that of 38 employers (recruiting 32,202 young people and representing 17 sectors), privileged young people were over-represented. Only 57% of graduates hired by companies had a state school education compared to 91% across the UK population. Graduate employers often focus on Russell Group Universities to source candidates for graduate schemes but as just 26% of young people from low income families go to university versus 43% of their better-off peers, employers are not considering the environment from which they are hiring and the socio-economic biases that already exist within it.

Gender bias also remains prevalent within graduate schemes. From the outset graduate schemes are made more appealing to men; male graduates apply for an average of 7 graduate schemes compared to 5 for women and consequently in the last three years 44% of male graduates completed a graduate scheme versus 27% of women. This disparity is maintained throughout the scheme itself with schemes clearly geared to meet the demands of male candidates over those of female candidates. Of those who completed graduate schemes, 56% of men were positive about the schemes compared to only 46% of women, and women are more likely to be dissatisfied with pay with just 12% of women being satisfied versus 20% of men.


This bias and limited accessibility is reinforced by the application process itself with 30% of recent graduates feeling the process is unfairly tailored to those with a specific background.

When asked about what improvements could be made to the application process itself 39% were suggesting greater accessibility for those with different qualifications and backgrounds. They also stated the process itself needed better feedback and communication throughout (38%), needed to be made more personable and inviting (36%), needed more clarity around the process (33%) and that they would like to have more opportunity to prepare (31%). These archaic and complex application processes act as barriers and limit accessibility for candidates from varied backgrounds.

Stay tuned for the next two insight pieces from our graduate research; POOR CANDIDATE EXPERIENCE DAMAGES EMPLOYER BRAND, publishing 25th of July, and ALTERNATIVE ROUTES INTO WORK, publishing 8th of August.

This research was conducted by Tempo in June 2019 and received 1,035 responses from current university students or candidates who have graduated within the last three years.