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Women in Engineering Professions - an Overview

By Barbara Lange

Women and engineering - the two still do not go well together: despite targeted campaigns, the proportion of women in engineering professions remains lower than elsewhere. Women are still under-represented, earn less and occupy fewer management positions.

Women in engineering professions - an overview© Peterclose - iStockphoto.comAccording to a DGB study, the proportion of women is below average in MINT professions, lying at 18.7 per cent
For years now, associations and companies have complained of a shortage of specialists in the MINT disciplines - professions in mathematics, informatics, natural sciences, and technology. The Association of German Engineers (VDI) recorded more than 55,000 vacancies in its engineering monitor in October 2013, for example. Such a high figure suggests those responsible in the public sector and companies should consider focusing more on female specialists. Countless campaigns, such as the "Komm, mach MINT" campaign funded by Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the activities of the Association for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies (VDE), already foster women's potential on the work market, though associations and organisations lament that this unfortunately is not enough. Lying at 12 per cent, the proportion of women in engineering professions lies far below the average of 45 per cent in all other professions.

Women in MINT Professions

Women continue to be under-represented in technical professions - the so-called MINT disciplines. This is the outcome of a study conducted by the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB) on "Women in MINT professions - female workers in the tension between family life, a career, and opportunities for professional advancement".

The study's findings are not particularly optimistic: while women occupy an average of 45.6 percent of positions in all professions, the figure in MINT disciplines is just 18.7 per cent according to the DGB. The engineering professions had the lowest proportion of women (12.8 per cent) and natural sciences the highest (41.7 per cent). Within this, the proportion of women increases according to the size of the company.

Download DGB-Studie (PDF) (in German language)»
Change processes are instigated only cautiously, thus a growing number of women are beginning to opt to complete a degree in engineering. In 2012, the number of female students starting a degree course in engineering rose 14,500 to 35,500. "The dynamics are clearly discernible," says Ulrike Struwe, who heads up the "Komm, mach MINT" campaign (www.komm-mach-mint.de). "The potential of well-qualified women in the natural sciences and engineering is growing. In recent years, this development has been continuous."

The trend is discernible in most subjects with an engineering focus; hence, the number of female students opting to study electrical engineering, which traditionally has a low proportion of women, has almost doubled since 2008 and now lies at 12.3 per cent. What's more the number of engineers among female graduates has also risen: in 2012, by an average of 12 per cent compared to the previous year. Despite this, the statistics are by no means good: according to the Association of German Engineers (VDI), a total of 56 per cent of all degrees are awarded to women across all subjects.

Proportion of women in the MINT disciplines below average

Women remain under-represented in the MINT disciplines; the traditional role conceptions frequently tend to dominate here. Very few women study engineering subjects, they earn less for their work and rarely occupy management positions. According to a study conducted by the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB), this is due to a lack of opportunities to balance family obligations with a career. While two thirds of all female MINT academics in employment criticise this, it is only an issue for just over half of their male counterparts. "Whereas for women, one of the biggest challenges lies in compensating for the huge professional demands of their partner, for men the biggest challenge is their own professional demands," the study's authors established. Overall, there is a lack of offers of part-time work and flexible time management. Just one in four female MINT academics is able to organise their working hours flexibly, and less than one in five women stated that they are able to work from home.

A lack of flexible working time models

The criticism is clearly aimed at companies: flexible working time models, clear opportunities for professional advancement but also changes to the corporate culture belong on the agenda. Thus, companies should not arrange meetings at exactly the times when mothers (and fathers!) must pick up their children. The environment also plays an important role: teachers, parents and society must portray a positive image to show young women that women and engineering is not a contradiction.

Women are also under-represented in management positions in engineering professions. The figures from individual studies on this vary, though they always have the same result: under 10 per cent. In a Kienbaum study of management executives and specialists in technical functions, women occupy just five per cent of management positions in the field of engineering.

Women are paid less

In light of these findings, it should hardly come as a surprise that women earn less than men do. "Women often earn less than men in comparable positions. This is also the case for engineers, though the difference between women's pay and that of their male peers tends to be slightly smaller than in many other professions," says Heike Friedrichsen from salary consultants, PersonalMarkt.

At the start of women's careers, the situation is somewhat better. According to PersonalMarkt, female graduates in engineering professions receive around nine per cent less than their male peers - in concrete figures, an average of 41,561 Euros compared to the 46,496 Euros men are paid. Later on in their career, the difference increases to around 20 per cent though. Parental leave and the problems associated with balancing family life and a career mentioned above have an impact. According to PersonalMarkt, female engineers earn an average of 47,222 Euros and male engineers 59,317 Euros.

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academics :: January 2014