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Women Achieving Parity in the Workplace: Still Not the Case in Engineering Occupations

August 26th marks Women's Equality Day, which commemorates the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which gave the right to vote for women. Although women have had the right to vote since 1920, almost 100 years later the gender pay gap is still an ever present issue surrounding equality between the sexes.

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Women Achieving Parity in the Workplace: Still Not the Case in Engineering Occupations

SWE Research Update by Ursula Nguyen, SWE Research Intern


Recently, the Pew Research Center published that women had just surpassed men among the college-educated labor force. Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the researchers found that women represent the majority among 25-year-olds and older with at least a Bachelor’s degree in the U.S. labor force. At the end of the 2019 first quarter, women comprised 50.2% (or 29.5 million) of these college-educated workers while men represented about 49.8% (see Figure 1).

Pew Research college-educated labor force
Figure 1 (Source: Pew Research Center)

Yet, as pointed out by the article, this celebratory milestone for women is still not the case within engineering and computer science occupations. Although the representation of women in engineering and computer and mathematics occupations has increased over time, this representation has stagnated for about a decade. Specifically, in 2018, women comprised about 13% of the engineering workers and 26% of the computer and mathematics workers. Further, recent data from 2017 shows that the percentage of women engineers varies across engineering disciplines (see Figure 2). For instance, women represent only 8% of mechanical engineers compared to 26% of environmental engineers. In the computer industry, only 19% of software developers and 21% of computer programmers are women.

Women Achieving Parity in the Workplace: Still Not the Case in Engineering Occupations
Figure 2 (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Additionally, even in these high-paying engineering and computer occupations, the median earnings of women are less than those of their male counterparts. Though the gender wage gap varies by engineering discipline, the gender wage gap is smallest among mechanical engineers where women earn about 95% of men’s median earnings. On the other hand, the largest gender wage gap is observed in the aerospace and electrical engineering disciplines, where women engineers, on average, earn 86% of what their male colleagues earn. Still, the gender wage gap in engineering and computer occupations isn’t as severe as the gender wage gap in the overall U.S. labor force (80.7%) as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau. That is, on average, for every dollar men earn, women earn about 81 cents.

Given that the rates of representation of women in engineering and computing workforce are low, efforts to increase the number of women entering these professions should be paramount. Moreover, these engineering and computer science fields possess occupational opportunities with high-paying (economic) rewards for women. At the same time we all must continue to address the gender wage gap in these fields and ensure women earn the same pay as their male colleagues for the same work.


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