CNI Study Center: female engineers are increasing but so are gender gaps


Emma Potter

Education and work

It is often argued that the consolidation of gender gaps in our country (but in the rest of the industrialized countries and everywhere in the world the situation is identical) has strongly contributed, among the various factors, to a constant less access for women to various levels of education. The data, however, indicate the opposite: in Italy, in the population between 25 and 64 years old, 65.7% of women have at least a diploma, compared to 60.3% among men. Furthermore, in the same age group, 23.5% of women have a degree, compared to 17% among men.. In short, today, and also in the recent past, women are more widely educated than men, they try to access study courses with greater intensity than men, they aspire to and obtain a degree to a consistently greater extent than men do. men.

Once they enter the job market, however, for many the situation changes: career paths become more complex and bumpy and an indicator of inequality that applies to everyone is the wage gap, systematically lower for women than for men in any production sector.
The problem is also evident in the engineering sector and, more generally in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) field. Even in this case, however, some clichés should be dispelled. It is true that currently in Italy (in Europe the situation is similar) the number of women with a tertiary qualification in STEM is considerably lower than that of men: in Italy, considering the population of young adults (25-34 years), only 16.6% of women have a diploma/degree in STEM disciplines, compared to 34.5% among men.

However, even in these areas, there has been a constant rise in the number of women for some time. In Italy, for example, if we consider master's graduates in STEM disciplinary areas, in 2013 there were 14,813, in 2015 there were 15,136, in 2017 there were 17,893, in 2021 there were 20,059. Between 2013 and 2021 (latest Eurostat data available) in Italy the number of master's graduates in STEM disciplinary areas increased by 35%, among the highest increases in Europe: in Germany the increase was 30%, in France by 24.2%, in Austria by 28%, in Belgium by 33% and in the United Kingdom around 20%.

Women in the engineering sector are on the rise

Even if we look only at the engineering sector, the female presence is growing in Italy at considerable levels. In 2010, 3,140 women obtained a master's degree in engineering; in 2021 there were 8,267. In 2010, master's graduates in engineering constituted 23% of the total engineering graduates, while in 2021 they constitute 30.8%. In Europe we currently place ourselves in one intermediate position among the main countries of the Union: between 2015 and 2021, according to Eurostat data, the number of master's graduates in Engineering in Italy And increased by 23.2%, in Germany by 23.3%, in Belgium by 12%; in France and Spain the growth rate appears to have decreased while in the same period countries such as Austria, Holland and the Scandinavian area recorded increases of around 40%.

In Italy there was also a appreciable increase in the share of women registered in the Register of Engineers: they were 9% of the total in 2007 compared to 17% today.

Why do salary differences exist?

In this changing scenario, at least in numbers, nothing seems to change in the job market and in the gender gaps it manifests. Gender wage differentials, present in all sectors and at all levels, apply to everyone. In the field of professional work, the data is striking: from the latest available, dating back to 2021, among the engineers registered with Inarcassa, the men record an average income of 44,459 euroswhile the women present a average income of 26,083 euros with a gender paygap of almost 48%.

The architects registered with Inarcassa record an average annual income of 33,525 euros compared to the 20,748 euros recorded by their colleagues, with a paygap of 38%. The gender paygap of all freelancers registered with private funds currently stands at 44%, according to Adepp data.

The reasons for these differences they are multiple. In the labor market, especially in Italy, the fact that women, more than men, have to try to reconcile work time with that of parental care weighs heavily, in addition to the substantial lack of family services, nurseries and other activities widespread that allow, especially younger couples, to better reconcile work and family needs. These explanations However, they are valid up to a certain point. Especially on differences in salary treatment no more justifications can be given for which women suffer a sort of delay in terms of qualification of skills compared to men. The recovery of delays is increasingly faster and, if we look at hyper-specialist sectors such as engineering and the entire STEM field, in the very near future there will be more and more qualified women. A growing trend of increasingly motivated and increasingly qualified women does not correspond to a decline in wage differentials, but rather the problem seems to be worsening and should probably be addressed with new policies and tools to support families and women.

Press release by Antonio Felici, head of the Press Office of the National Council of Engineers