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When the salary reflects old-fashioned thinking

With a growing sense of surprise and despair, I read a report that once again shows the pay gap between male and female engineers. But then I became angry. This is absolutely not OK in Sweden in the year 2021.

KTH has for many years sought to systematically encourage both women and men to study engineering programmes and to ultimately work as engineers. Naturally, when choosing a study programme, what it contains and how it is taught, are of interest to a prospective student. But it is what opportunities are available on graduating that matters most of all.

And prospective students have every right to wonder about salaries and salary progressionIt starts as soon as our students head out from KTH and enter the job market. According to a report by the Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers  (in Swedish), men are valued more highly from their very first day of work and are paid a starting salary that is SEK 1,100 a month higher on average than their female classmates. Surely that is incomprehensible? That she may also have better grades than he has makes it even more exasperating.

The differences increase further along the career path, which can be explained to an extent by the fact that female engineers are more likely to work in the public sector and men in the private sector where salaries are higher. The average pay for a male engineer in 2019 was just over SEK 54,300 a month while female equivalents earned around SEK 48,900. In other words, women are paid 90 percent of male salaries. It must be said, however, that compared to a corresponding survey in 2013, the gap has narrowed, as female engineers then earned 86.8 percent of male salaries.

Another explanation for the difference is that men often end up in higher positions and accordingly receive higher salaries.

This distortion is absolutely alarming when you look at the engineering categories where the salary differences are especially large, within energy and electrical engineering. This does not make recruitment to these programmes that genuinely need talents from all quarters and where female students are noticeably in the minority, any easier. If a woman is already hesitating about her choice of study programme, poorer salary prospects in her future career is not a great selling point.

The thinking that a person who is good at demanding higher pay is more competent is idiotic. But some such guaranteed correlation is not something I have seen as head of a university in any case.

I would more likely want to say that every employer has a duty to combat this. A development that is based on gender is not only old-fashioned and back to front, but also something we all lose from. In the hunt and need for different talents and perspectives in relation to both social and technological developments in general.