- A) 13%
- B) 0.15%
- C) The math depends on your agenda
You're right! The math behind the wage gap depends on what you're looking to achieve in your analysis. Congratulations!
Let me explain. For the last couple of years, APEGA has published a detailed salary survey of its members. (This year, APEGA instead published an 8-page summary of the survey, and asked $1,900 to share the full information with you, while also withholding the complete data from previous years. Yuck.) Fortunately, through the power of the web archive, we can access the previous salary survey data, which is helpfully broken down into many demographics. Let's take a look.
From the 2014 salary survey, the average male engineer's salary was $125,721, and the average female engineer's salary was $109,402, for a wage gap of 13%. Alright, we're done here. That was easy.
Well, maybe not so fast. One of the biggest determinants of salary is seniority, and if seniority isn't distributed similarly between genders then that may skew the data. If we compare male to female earnings based on seniority, we get:
When we look at the data like this, we see that until maybe the very top levels of senior management, male and female engineers make approximately the same salaries (within 2% one way or another). If we weight this based on the total number of engineers in each category, we actually end up with females earning 0.15% more than men on average.
So on the one hand we have women earning the same as men, and on the other hand we have women making 13% less, all depending on how you look at the statistics. While things are looking good from the point of view of co-workers getting paid similarly for similar responsibilities, is there a chance that something else may be pulling back on womens' chances at the better paying jobs? We can investigate further by looking at seniority by gender:
Alright now that's something. Women tend to average around a B to a C level, whereas men tend to average around a C to a D level. Here's a major difference, and when compared with the salary averages at each seniority level, we can see where the previously-established 13% salary difference comes from.
Based on the earlier analysis, I'm pretty optimistic that for the same responsibility level, male and female engineers make approximately the same wages. But it's definitely worth looking into what's causing the differences in distribution of work responsibilities.
Starting out, I think there are three major plausible theories. A pessimistic and sexist theory could be that men are promoted faster in the workplace, and as a result tend to sit higher in seniority (glass ceiling style). The disappointing yet potentially less sexist theory is that women, for one reason or another, leave the workplace earlier than men, and as a result there are fewer of them to take on senior management roles. And the last theory is that changes in the graduation rates of female engineers are leaving women just now catching up to men in equality.
Let's examine each in turn. Each level of seniority in the APEGA salary survey also contained information on length of career post-graduation, for women and for men. If the distribution of these values doesn't line up, perhaps that tells us something. The three largest groups by seniority are B, C, and D:
Still pretty close. Then there's:
Alright, they actually all look reasonably similar. If anything, there may be a higher percentage of younger women in D-level positions than men, similar to the higher percentage of very young men in C-level positions than women. Nothing that could quite explain a 13% wage disparity though.
The second theory I suggested was that women may leave the workplace at younger ages than men, for various reasons. Here's the distribution of women at different stages in engineers' careers:
Yikes. Please note though that the salary data for people who've worked 35-40 years is pretty slim, so it's not terribly unlikely that there actually are some women engineers in that demographic, and the 2014 salary survey actually over-polled the number of females which may also skew the data. Either way, we see a clear trend where older and more senior engineers are substantially less likely to be female than younger engineers.
The final piece of the puzzle comes from the third theory I listed above. Graduation rates for female engineers have changed wildly over the last 40 years, as shown in this graph from the Ontario Network of Women in Engineering:
While there may be a bit of a discrepancy between Canada graduation numbers and Alberta employment numbers, I think this comparison is still valid.
So what are we left with to explain the wage gap for engineers in Alberta? It appears as though a significant part of it may be due to the fact that, until relatively recently, the rate of women entering engineering education was dreadfully low. A lot of the high-paying senior management positions that are held by men simply don't have many women counterparts to be offered to, leading to an imbalance in seniority. That being said, women in engineering, certainly past the 20-years-since-graduation mark, are still lagging behind their graduation rates, suggesting that women who did graduate over 20 years ago were still more likely to leave the field than their male counterparts.
Where does this leave us? Well, while things are definitely getting better, and engineering is surprisingly better than the average of other workplaces, there's always work to be done. I suspect that as the workforce ages, we'll see a narrowing of the disparity in seniority, and hopefully in the meantime we can figure out which factors lead to women leaving the field disproportionately. Only when we reach a situation where opportunities at all levels of engineering employment are equal will we have a truly equal environment for engineers in Alberta.
Edit: It's worth noting that the APEGA salary survey does not distinguish between full time and part time, or contract or non-contract work. As a result, any potential gender disparities between these forms of employment haven't been assessed in this post, or in the APEGA salary survey as a source.