Women set new pay agenda

The 2001 annual survey of UK engineering salaries has revealed that female engineers can earn more than their older male counterparts.

Women are starting to move ahead of men in the pay stakes when it comes to top engineering jobs. The annual survey of engineering salaries has revealed that at certain levels within an organisation, a woman can earn more than a man in the same job, and do so at a younger age.

The findings, collected from 14,090 individuals (759 of whom were women), show that a senior female engineer responsible for supervising a team and controlling its budget, can expect to earn £32,256 by the age of 35. By contrast, a man in the same position can expect to earn £30,026 only by the time he reaches 42.

Moreover, comparisons made purely by age show women engineers between 30 and 49 were paid more than men in the same age bracket. Those between 40 and 44 are paid the highest salaries of all, equivalent to 111.9 per cent of the pay received by a man of a similar age.

The results, compiled by Remuneration Economics, do not surprise Michelle Richmond, 36, a senior project manager for Ubinetics, a Cambridge telecoms components specialist. She is working on the development of technology for the next generation of GPRS phones.

The determination and focus of women in the profession makes their higher salaries no surprise – and fully justified, she says. In her experience the earnings of female engineers reflect their ability and commitment.

‘The small number of women engineers – and it is far too small – tends to be very focused. Very few drift into engineering. They make a decision to follow that career and stick with it.

‘Any woman who has gone through a male-dominated engineering course develops a certain amount of confidence. That helps her later on.’

She believes that many women working in engineering put off having a family until their mid-to-late 30s. ‘They are determined to get as far as possible in their careers before then.’

Richmond qualified in electronics and communications engineering the hard way, through an apprenticeship beginning at 16. There is a common perception that engineering is a hotbed of sexism, but Richmond says that in her experience, this view can be overplayed. ‘There is no doubt that is an element, but mainly during the early stages of someone’s training and most likely during an engineering course.’

Richmond says that this is due to the ‘less mature’ state of the male colleagues encountered during the early stages of a female engineer’s career. ‘But once you are in the business environment I think that sort of thing rarely happens.’

Success in a meritocracy

Another senior female engineer working in the high-tech sector, who did not want to be identified, says she has two female staff on good salaries, one just 26 and earning £36,000 a year.

She dismisses suggestions they would receive a worse deal under a male boss, adding that in her experience people are paid on merit. Women tend to get noticed and shine through because there are so few of them in the profession, she says.

She says there are fewer pressures on women these days to settle down, which means they have the freedom to make an impression during the early years of their careers.

‘I find that if I need people to be flexible, it’s the women I generally turn to. Between the ages of 21 to 30 I travelled the world to work where my company wanted me to work.

Many women are gaining recognition like this, earning higher salaries and maintaining them in later life.’

The majority of women enter the profession via university as opposed to through apprenticeships. Women make up 15 per cent of all engineering undergraduates, and only seven per cent of the dwindling numbers of apprentices. Mike Sanderson, chief executive of the Engineering and Manufacturing Training organisation (EMTA), says those who are promoted from the shopfloor do not generally benefit from the same increases in pay as those with an academic background.

However, a note of caution is sounded by Marie-Noelle Barton, director of the campaign for Women in Science and Engineering. She was surprised by the findings, given that the Equal Opportunities Commission put women’s earning in general at 80 per cent of men’s. But she agrees that in engineering, education and changes in the way women balance work with their private lives might result in better rates of pay.

Equality matters

However, she says it is important to achieve equality at work and warned that gender should not be allowed to influence pay awards, whether they favour men or women.’I am delighted for those women concerned, but somewhere something has gone wrong if one gender is getting more than another. If salaries are not being paid in an equal way then that will create resentment,’ she says. ‘Women would want equality, and for that reason these figures are a bit saddening. Gender should not matter whatever job you do.’

Earnings in engineering as a whole grew by 5.9 per cent in the year to July 2001, the largest increase since 1998. Middle-ranking department managers and engineers enjoyed the highest rises of 6.1 per cent and 6.4 per cent respectively. The average earnings index for the whole country recorded a 4.8 per cent growth in the period. The average annual earnings for a department manager in the period was £47,926, and for an engineer £25,230.

Chemicals was again the highest-paying sector. On average a department manager earned £58,743 including bonuses, while an engineer earned a total of £30,810. Last year’s survey found department managers earned £49,579 on average.

The lowest paying sector was electrical engineering. The average salary of a department manager was £35,310, and for an engineer £26,748. Overall the lowest-paid engineers were found to be in mechanical engineering and production, where average annual earnings were £22,939.