Being a woman and an engineer anywhere in the world is not without its challenges. Engineering remains a male-dominated field where women are likely to face gender bias and discrimination in different forms. There is still an important gender pay gap and in most places male engineers are still more likely to receive promotions and have leadership positions than their female colleagues.
Sweden still has a way to go to achieve gender equality in the engineering profession. Women are underrepresented not only at engineering courses at university, but in the workforce as well. According to the Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers, only one in four engineers in Sweden is a woman. Furthermore, Sweden also has a gender pay gap within the engineering profession, with women earning around 89% of what equally qualified men do.
Although the statistics paint a rather bleak picture of what a career for women is like in the Swedish engineering field, it is not the full picture. There have been many improvements over the years and there are very positive sides to being a woman and an engineer in Sweden that other places do not have.
It is also important to remember that gender equality is at the top of the Swedish government’s priority list. Sweden's goal is for men and women to have the same power to shape society and their own lives. Research and policy are constantly seeking solutions to address inequality and discrimination in all areas of society and progress has been made and is being made when it comes to achieving gender equality.
Within the Swedish engineering field, the underrepresentation of women and the gender pay-gap are definitely problems that need solving. They indicate that gender bias and gender stereotypes continue to be encrusted in Swedish society in different ways. However, one needs to understand where these statistics come from and look at some other indicators in order to see that things are better than they appear.
In Sweden, the underrepresentation of women in engineering, for instance, has more to do with education than it does with discriminatory addmission and recruitment processes. Research shows that Swedish girls begin turning away from STEM fields in high school. This is when implicit biases about what girls can and cannot do begin to have measurable effects. By the time girls reach university, only a handful have continued along the STEM path.
Only about 30% of students in university engineering programs in Sweden are women. It then follows that only over a quarter of the engineering workforce will be women. The two figures are related. Increasing the representation of women in engineering therefore requires encouraging and supporting girls from a young age to pursue a career in the profession. It is not the engineering profession per se that excludes women; it is early education that subtly pushes them away.
When it comes to the gender pay-gap, there is also more to this statistic than initially meets the eye. One reason women are paid less and see less wage progression than men is that there is an expectation that women will take more time off work than men, especially if they have children. This form of discrimination is called statistical discrimination as it is based on what happens to be statistically true in society. Women do take more time off work when they have children than men do.
In Sweden, women generally take six more months off for parental leave than men. Women are also more likely to work part-time when they have a family than men. The Swedish government is trying to address this issue by introducing legislation that ensures that men and women split parental leave and unpaid care work more equally. This should ensure that the expectation of how much time women and men will take off work for family is about the same, and should help equalize wages.
Although there is room for improvement in how it is implemented, Swedish parental leave legislation is already one of the most gender-equal in the world. In Sweden, parents receive 480 days of paid parental leave and fathers must take at least 90 of those days to help care for a new child. In 2020, fathers in Sweden were actually taking up to 144 of the days reserved for couples, indicating a growing desire from men to help shoulder the responsibility of childcare.
What all this means for women in Sweden, whether they are engineers or not, is that there are structures in place to help them balance the responsibilities of having a family and pursuing their career of choice. In Sweden, it is possible to be both an engineer and a mother.
Any discussion about the gender pay-gap in engineering in Sweden would be incomplete without also mentioning how it has been steadily narrowing over the years. Back in 2014, women engineers in Sweden were earning 86.7% of what men were. By 2019, the pay-gap had narrowed by 2.3%. Progress is slow, but the gender equality promoting policies of the government seem to be working! Further improvement is certain.
In the Swedish engineering profession there are other positive news for women. For one, the majority of women who work as engineers in Sweden do feel like they have influence and power over their work. Women are also generally satisfied with their career development as engineers, with more than half reporting that they are satisfied with the opportunities available to them. This means that even if there still is a representation problem and therefore more men in leadership positions, women engineers in Sweden do feel heard and included.
In fact, nearly 60% of women engineers surveyed in a study by the Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers say that they are happy and satisfied at their workplace. The Swedish business culture and management style plays a role here. Swedish companies have a flat, democratic structure that operates through consensus and openness. Managers and bosses are more like mediators that offer advice and suggestions, and anyone, no matter their position or experience, can give their opinion and input.
The Swedish management style can mean that making decisions becomes a much more drawn out process. There are many more meetings than in other places as everyone is expected to participate in the decision-making process. However, this system ensures that organizations remain egalitarian and that those who are traditionally ignored, like women and other minorities, have a voice and an impact.
Women in Sweden, no matter their profession, also have other resources to ensure that they are listened to and treated fairly at the workplace. They can invoke the Swedish Discrimination Act that requires employers to actively promote equality and prevent harassment. If that should fail, they can turn to the Swedish Equality Ombudsman - a government institution that protects equal rights and will advocate for you if you are discriminated against.
Government institutions and Swedish law are not the only resources available to support women. There are women-led groups and organizations that can help too. Within STEM, an organization called Women in Tech is actively working on improving diversity and inclusion by connecting women to each other. It is backed by major companies like Ericsson and Scania, which shows that Swedish industry has a vested interest in making space for women.
Overall, Sweden may still have some areas to work on to reach the goal of becoming a gender-equal country, but things are moving in the right direction. As a woman, whether you are an engineer or not, Sweden is a good choice. There is more freedom and support both in the workplace and in society than can be found in other places, and there are active efforts to continue improving so that women and men have equal power and influence.
Are you a woman? Are you an engineer? Do you seek more egalitarian working conditions? Apply to Iknal Semikan today!