Employment 2023 – Where did all the men go?

Employment 2023 – Where did all the men go?

by: Mike Smith

Employment 2023 – Where did all the men go?

I will admit right out of the gates, this subject – employment by gender in the workplace – may be sensitive for some. Perhaps none of us want to admit it, but it is just a fact, there are just some employment areas where men have been more likely to take employment than women and vice versa. Agriculture is one of those employment sectors where men still outnumber the women, especially closer to the farm level. Many of those perceptions are slowly going away, as perhaps they should be.

This column is not about what should or shouldn’t be, but rather more about supply and demand, what we have to work with. In the past 5 or more years, it is simply a fact that men have not kept pace with women in seeking an advanced education, 4 year or more college degrees. Today, as reported in a recent article by the Wall Street Journal, the ratio on many college campuses is roughly 60% women, 40% men. In contrast, the ratio was totally opposite in 1970, about 60% of college enrollees being men. This data was from the National Student Clearinghouse, a non-profit research group. In the past two years alone, U.S. college enrollments have dropped by 1.5 million fewer students overall, with men accounting for over 71% of that decline, and very soon there will be 2 women for every 1 man on college campuses, with no reversal of that trend in sight.

What do we make of this, and why? The gender gap at colleges cuts across race, geography, and economic background. The magnitude of the gender gap does vary by college major somewhat. The numbers by college are a little hard to come by as most colleges are not making the statistics by gender public. I was able to obtain some data representing enrollment in the College of Agriculture at Kansas State University. Total enrollment 5 years ago showed about 2500 total students with the gender ratio nearly 50:50. The college’s enrollment through the 2022 school year, showed a slight drop in women to just below 1200, whereas the men’s enrollment had dropped below 1000. That’s nearly a 30% drop for the men, and no one appears to be talking about it. If you are in Agriculture, though, just take a look at the gender ratio of the past few years of your state FFA officer teams and you can get a feel for this!

So, as an employer, what is to be done? First of all, face the fact that your overall total supply of college graduates will be dropping for the next few years (assuming 4 years to complete a BS degree). You can blame this on much lower birth rates per 1000, about 20 years ago (~12/1000 in 2000-2005 vs. 24/1000 in 1960). Secondly, and I know this can be somewhat of a sensitive area, if in your mind you always had pictured to interview the “guys” because that is what you are used to, be prepared to change your mindset. Perhaps it is high time that you did anyway. The above data also indicates that women have traditionally, a graduation rate of over 50%, whereas the men are only at 40%.

We don’t have the data, yet, to say where the men have gone, but it is likely that many that would have gone to college, have instead headed to a 2-year community college, or a trade school to learn technical training like construction, mechanics, or HVAC. There is certainly a very high demand for those skill areas right now, and those careers don’t require a 4-year BS degree. Even though I highly support getting a college education, having a BS or higher degree does not assure everyone success.

Recommendation: If you haven’t already changed your mindset, interview the women as well as the men. Your supply (Economic supply & demand) is certainly stronger for the women right now. And, ask yourself if you can restructure some of the roles in your business, whereas some roles may not actually need a full BS or BA degree, even though that’s what your job descriptions say you need. Don’t lower your standards, just review what each job area you have really needs. You may find some gems, both women and men, that you might not otherwise have passed through your interviewing gauntlet.