Engineers are the backbone of modern technology, but they are often overlooked in the job market, despite their immense technical abilities.
The profession, which was once dominated by men, now has more women than any other field, and the U.S. has the highest female-to-male ratio in the world.
But while the number of women in the U,S.
workforce is growing, they’re not necessarily the ones doing the heavy lifting, according to the UMass Amherst Engineering Institute.
In a recent study, the institute surveyed more than 500 engineering jobs across the country and found that only about a quarter of engineering students are male.
That disparity can be attributed to a variety of factors, including a lack of support from the workforce and an overreliance on women in engineering roles, according, according.
“We’re looking at a time where there’s a shortage of engineering talent,” said Dr. Mark Riesch, president of the institute.
The institute analyzed the hiring history of over 2,300 engineering students across the U.,S., and found the gap between the number and gender of female applicants was still large, with nearly 70 percent of female engineers being hired before the age of 25.
“What’s going on is a real disconnect, but it’s going to be even worse in the future, and that’s because of our economic and social conditions,” said Riesc, who has worked at the institute for 18 years.
While it’s not the first time the institute has looked at gender in the engineering workforce, it’s the first study to analyze a large pool of job applicants across the nation.
The results, published this week in the journal Applied Physics Letters, show that women outnumber men in engineering jobs, even though their salaries and qualifications are nearly equal.
“There’s a lot of evidence suggesting that women don’t need to be in the workforce to make a contribution in the economy, and if you have a strong gender-equity culture, that might be a big contributor,” said co-author and UMass associate professor of mechanical engineering Dr. David D. Gershon.
“But that doesn’t mean that all women are equally valuable or good.”
Riesck said that there’s an ongoing push to improve the educational and job environments for engineering students.
He said he’s optimistic that, with the right policies, the workforce can be more gender-balanced.
“I think we’re on the cusp of some great things, but we need to do it in a way that works for all,” he said.
The study analyzed the job applications of over 250,000 engineering students from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., and determined that the gender pay gap was between 12 and 16 percent for engineering candidates.
The gap in salaries for female and male engineers was slightly smaller, between 4 and 5 percent, but there were some discrepancies in the number in the highest and lowest paying positions.
“This is really, really, important because you have to have a diverse workforce to build the next generation of great technologies,” said D. Michael Brown, president and CEO of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Brown said the gender gap was a “disappointing” finding, but that there were signs of improvement.
“When it comes to hiring, the pay gap between women and men is really not a big issue, but you can see the pay difference has gone down over time,” he told ABC News.
Brown also said that while the gap was not large enough to cause the industry to shut down entirely, it would be an “amazing” achievement if it were to be eliminated.
“If we are going to get to a place where the gap is getting smaller, we’re going to have to do a lot more to get there,” he added.