Women with technology degrees end up outside the industry

Women with natural science and technology degrees experience maladjustment more often than their male colleagues when transitioning from master’s studies to working life, according to a new report. This is not the case for other scientific fields.

Six months after completing a master’s degree, nine of ten graduates have found jobs, but many of them work in jobs that are not relevant to their field, work part-time or experience other forms of maladjustment. According to a new study, women in natural science and technology experience much more maladjustment than men. The same applies to graduates with an immigrant background. (Illustration: www.colourbox.no)

The career start-up phase of those who graduated last year with a master’s degree has now been documented in the Candidate survey 2013, which was presented in August. The report focuses on the transition from master’s studies to working life, and documents the graduates’ motivation to conduct research, as well as their salary level and adjustment to working life.

“This year we have focused more on the gender perspective in the candidate survey than we have previously done in these reports,” explains NIFU researcher Liv Anne Støren, one of the authors of the report. 

“This is not because the gender perspective is missing in any way from NIFU’s educational analyses in general, but because the reports from previous candidate surveys have not addressed gender to any great degree.”

Women in natural science and technology experience the most maladjustment

The survey was sent out six months after Norway’s recent master’s graduates completed their final examination in spring 2013, and documents, among other things, their situation in the labour market.

The results show that the vast majority – nine of ten – were employed at the time of this interview. However, far from everyone has relevant work, that is, a job that corresponds with the expertise they obtained from their education. Other factors related to “maladjustment”, in addition to non-relevant work and unemployment, are over-education and underemployment.

“Women in natural science and technology experience much more maladjustment than men at the beginning of their careers,” says Støren.

In these cases, maladjustment most often entails work that is irrelevant for the person’s education as well as underemployment, such as involuntary part-time work.

“We see this gender difference in maladjustment only in natural science and technology, not in other fields,” says Research Professor Liv Anne Støren. (Photo: NIFU)

“This is a gender difference we don’t see in any other field. Maladjustment applies especially to women with childcare responsibilities, but it also applies to women without children. In contrast, the tendency in other fields is that recently graduated women experience slightly less unemployment than men.”

According to Støren, the causes of this maladjustment are unclear.

“It could result from the education they have taken within the natural sciences and technology, and it could be due to the type of jobs they go to. We don’t have enough numerical data to study this more closely in the report. But we have enough data to see a significant different and to state that this difference is not found in other fields,” says Støren.

“With regard to women with childcare responsibilities, it could be that they have more problems getting hired in relevant jobs and so they make do with work that is less relevant. There could be a variety of individual reasons for this, but the natural science and technology fields are sufficiently unique in this way that it is worth pointing out,” she states.

“Known that women switch to other industries”

Goro Ree-Lindstad of the Centre for Equality confirms there is a tendency for some women with technology degrees to end up working outside the industry.

“However, there are certain things about the findings that are somewhat surprising. We hear that there is great demand for expertise in the natural sciences and technology, so it’s rather odd that women are at such high risk of switching to other industries when they possess the expertise that is in demand,” says Ree-Lindstad, who points out that she has not read the entire report.

“By the same token, we know very well that a larger percentage of women than men in this field end up being employed in other industries,” she says.

“So perhaps we should not be surprised that this tendency appears quite early in one’s career.”

Ree-Lindstad is one of the project managers for the Centre for Equality’s project on women in technology professions (Kvinner i teknologiyrker). The purpose of the project is both to recruit and to retain more women in the technology professions, which have long been a male dominated area. However, the percentage of women has been increasing in recent years, and the University of Agder reported this autumn that the number of women studying technology at the institution has increased from 126 to 362 in the past eight years. In addition, the university reports that it now has 40 percent women in the building design track.

According to Ree-Lindstad, discrimination during the hiring process may be one reason it is difficult to retain women with technology expertise in the technology industry.

“We believe that when managers conduct a hiring process, they may operate with an attitude that women of childbearing age are not as desirable as employees – and this attitude may be overrepresented in male-dominated professions. This can make it more difficult for women to gain entry into the field.”   

Hard transition?

Ree-Lindstad also points out that the transition from education to employment may be difficult if a woman is not prepared for the discriminatory mechanisms in working life. For example, the majority of complaints submitted to the Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombud deal with discrimination due to pregnancy.

“In today’s society we generally believe that we have achieved gender equality. We often explain a lack of gender equality by saying it is our own choices that limit us,” she says.

“Young women who have chosen a non-traditional education in which the job opportunities are found in male-dominated environments may find a difference between theory and practice when they enter the actual job market. This may entail prejudices, attitudes and a culture at the individual workplaces that are not compatible with the concept of gender equality.”

Goro Ree-Lindstad, the project manager for the Centre for Equality’s project on women in technology professions, thinks that the gender difference in maladjustment should worry employers. (Photo: Centre for Equality)

One of the project’s focus areas is to make male-dominated workplaces more family friendly, but Ree-Lindstad emphasizes that gender imbalance in the technology professions is a problem that must also be addressed long before, in kindergarten and school.

“At the same time, we know it’s crucial for gender equality that companies create a framework that promotes a family-friendly working life. If employees are expected to work overtime and to be available outside of regular work hours, this is not family friendly. This may deter women from applying, and should worry employers,” says Ree-Lindstad.

Untapped potential – also among immigrants

Liv Anne Støren also finds it paradoxical that there is talk of a lack of expertise in the natural sciences and technology when certain groups are especially vulnerable to unemployment or other forms of maladjustment within this field in particular.

“We also know that master’ graduates with an immigrant background are at especially high risk of unemployment, and this applies especially within natural science and technology,” she explains.

“On the whole this seems rather paradoxical since the general belief within the industry is that there is a lack of expertise in the natural sciences and technology,” she says.

“This suggests that we have a lot of untapped potential in this field.”

Many want to become researchers

Another new element in this year’s candidate survey is an overview of the recent graduates’ motivation to pursue a research career. In this part of the survey, which was commissioned by the Norwegian Association of Researchers, the authors found no difference between the genders – including in natural science and technology.

“We see that research is perceived as an attractive career path for many master’s graduates, and this is evenly distributed between women and men,” says Støren.

“This applies to the technical and natural science subjects as well. The percentage of women with a master’s degree in this field who said that they wanted to conduct research was actually slightly higher than the percentage of men with this type of master’s degree. There is enormous potential here for female researchers,” she says.

Salary differences increase over time

The report also shows that women have a somewhat lower salary than men at the beginning of their careers and that this is true regardless of scientific field and sector.

“We found that the salary differences between the genders was four percent a half year after completion of the master’s degree, and this is also the figure we got after controlling for scientific field and sector,” says Støren. 

“But generally we can say that we seldom find any particular salary differences between women and men a half year after completion of the master’s degree. Instead, the differences increase more throughout their careers.”

Translated by Connie Stultz.

The candidate survey

The candidate survey is an annual study conducted by the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU), and documents recent graduates’ adjustment to the labour market.

NIFU has been conducting candidate surveys since 1972. The surveys compile data on graduates regarding their salary, scope of employment, unemployment, place of work, and profession. In recent years the survey has also included questions regarding the graduates’ assessment of educational quality and relevance.

The Candidate survey 2013 is now available in Norwegian and may be downloaded here.

Women in technology professions

Kvinner i teknologiyrker (“Women in Technology Professions”) is a project launched by the Centre for Equality and aims to recruit and retain more women in the technology industry.

One focus area is to change the culture of male-dominated workplaces and make them more family friendly. The project also performs a gender equality analysis of technology companies to give them an overview of their status, attitudes and barriers with regard to women in the companies.

The Centre for Equality receives basic funding from the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, and promotes gender equality through its work as a provider of information and driving force for change, as well as through analyses, reports and knowledge sharing.

More information is available on the website of the Centre for Equality and the project page for Women in Technology Professions at the links below.