International employer branding specialist Universum has just released a new perspective on its UK talent attraction data, highlighting some fascinating differences between the career preferences and expectations of men and women.

Based on the preferences of more than 15,000 university students in the UK (including around 9,000 females and 6,500 males), the new study – ‘The 2012 Ideal Employers Gender Gap’ – features the students’ preferred industry sectors, salary expectations and ‘attributes of employer attractiveness’, as well as reflecting the ideal employers of business and engineering/IT students respectively.

The study suggests that many familiar stereotypes continue to be perpetuated, with men keen to work in banking, financial services, engineering and manufacturing, while women aspire to work in sectors such as education, research, government and the public sector, and media and advertising.

“What we start to see is that many companies have the ambition to manage their gender attraction levels. In fact there are some great examples of gender balance initiatives,” says Claudia Tattanelli, Universum’s director of global relations. “What we don’t see yet is similar efforts being conducted by industry associations in order to break the current stereotypes.”

The research also identifies a sizeable gap of 17% (equating to just over £4,000 annually) between the salary expectations of male and female students. On average, men are looking for around £2,320 a month, while women’s more modest expectations are around £1,980. “Historically we have always seen a real salary gap between men and women,” says Claudia. “However, we still find it surprising that part of this pay gap may come from the different expectations that both genders have. It will take strong corporate policies in gender equality to ensure that society becomes fairer.”

While both genders want to pursue the goals of work-life balance and job stability, the study indicates some distinct differences between what drives men and women over the longer term. Women are more likely to be “dedicated to a cause” or feel that they are “serving a greater good”, whereas men want to be seen as technical or functional experts. These differences are also reflected by the two genders’ respective personality profiles, with women seen more as ‘idealists’ while men tend to regard themselves as ‘careerists’.

Finally, size matters, along with image. Males tend to prefer ‘macro’ employers (those with headcounts in excess of 1,000), with women preferring medium-sized organisations (those with 100-500 employees). And men want to work in companies they perceive as being constantly innovative, offering high levels of responsibility and rapid promotion schemes, and focused exclusively on recruiting top performers, while women want to work for organisations with high ethical standards, opportunities for international travel or relocation, respect for their people and a good basis for a future career. “While it’s clear that men want a large environment where they can be quickly promoted and take on extra responsibility, women seek a more balanced environment where they can develop themselves personally and get ready for their future,” adds Claudia.

The top twenty ideal employers in the business and engineering categories are shown below. They’re listed in order of female preferences, with the corresponding male ranking in parentheses. And while the top two may come as no surprise (Apple and Google top both charts for men and women), there are some considerable variations further down the list (as illustrated by L’Oréal and John Lewis, for example). It’s also good to see organisations such as KPMG and Ernst & Young equally popular with both sexes.

Apple – 1 (1); Google – 2 (2); HSBC – 3 (6); L’Oréal – 4 (53); BBC – 5 (15); J.P. Morgan – 6 (4); KPMG – 7 (7); PwC – 8 (11); Ernst & Young – 9 (9); Deloitte – 10 (13); Goldman Sachs – 11 (3); Coca-Cola – 12 (20); Bank of England – 13 (12); P&G – 14 (39); Morgan Stanley – =15 (5); Unilever – =15 (35); BMW – 17 (8); British Airways – 18 (33); John Lewis – 19 (59); McKinsey – 20 (18).

Apple – 1 (1); Google – 2 (2); Microsoft – 3 (3); Rolls-Royce – =4 (4); Arup – =4 (16); IBM – 6 (7); BP – =7 (9); BBC – =7 (13); Sony – =9 (5); Jaguar Land Rover – =9 (12); Atkins – 11 (19); British Airways – 12 (15); Shell – 13 (11); BMW – 14 (6); Unilever – 15 (=45); Intel – 16 (8); Electronic Arts – =17 (10); P&G – =17 (=45); Esso/ExxonMobil – =19 (23); EDF Energy – =19 (29).