Have things changed during the 2010s?

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Now that 2019 is coming to an end, it is not only a year but a whole decade we can look back to. When it comes to women in technology – has any progress been made? Statistics Sweden provides easily accessible statistics on a general level. If we compare 2009 and 2018 or 2019 (depending on how fresh statistics are provided) we can see that:

The percentage of women taking the advanced master of engineering (civilingenjör) degree has actually gone up some: from 28% in 2009 till 35% in 2019. However, the percentage of women taking a bachelor of engineering (högskoleingenjör) has remained almost the same (28% to 27%). It seems that those women who decide to go into technology are those who have good theoretical skills and prefer the office, rather than what can be perceived as technology work closer to practical implications.

Another table, which does not give the exams achieved each year, but the educational level in the population in numbers, shows that the working age population having higher education in “technology and production” has increased with 25% during the last decade. Women have increased their numbers with 50%, compared to men’s 20%. When only looking at the younger workforce (up to 44 years), both men and women born abroad increase their numbers at a much higher rate than native born Swedes. In particular the women born abroad seem to have detected technology. Compared to 2009, there are now 75% more women born abroad with a technical education. Even men born abroad increasingly acquire technical education, their numbers have gone up 60% in ten years. So, the rescue for our dearth of engineers may come from what are commonly perceived as the suburban immigrant ghettos.

How about the salaries? In October 2019, our media reported that newly examined female masters of engineering now had lower first salaries than their male peers – after several years of closing the gender pay gap, it seems that it was widening again. That development does not (yet?) show in the salary statistics available from Statistics Sweden. There, female engineers almost invariably have earned and continue to earn about 86-92% of the salaries of their male colleagues. However, it seems that among graduates from new, more transdisciplinary engineering programmes, as well as biotechnology, the gender pay gap is diminishing.

While the 2010’s seem not to have been that bad for technology, still another table in Statistics Sweden gives me, as a citizen, worried creases on my forehead. Here, employers tell whether the competence pool for their needs is sufficient or not. While 19% of employers in 2009 told that there was a lack of newly examined engineers, the percentage had risen to 45% in 2019. Obviously, we need more engineers. However, we need healthcare staff even more: 76% of those who employ nurses told that there is a dearth of newly examined nurses. And the situation does not seem to improve: while the number of people with a degree in technology has increased with 25% in ten years, the number of people with a degree in healthcare has increased only by 17%.

As a Nordwit project member, I’m all for improving the gender balance and women’s working conditions in technology. As a citizen, dependent on our Scandinavian publicly financed healthcare, I’m very thankful that not all the women (and men) follow the calls to become engineers and work with technology, but that some also choose to work with the immediate welfare of the citizens. Technology should and could be more attractive to more women – but this aim needs to be balanced by making different care professions more attractive to men. Technical inventions and economic growth  are not enough to create well-fare.

Minna Salminen Karlsson

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