The latest results from the engineering world’s largest salary survey continue to validate a troubling reality: For many, the profession continues to be a very good way to make a living–but when it comes to salary parity for women and some minority groups, things could be a whole lot better.
According to the IEEE-USA Salary & Benefits Survey – 2016 Edition, conducted this past spring among U.S. members, salaries continue to rise for those working full time in their primary area of technical competence (PATC). The total median pre-tax income in the calendar year of 2015 from all sources was $138,285–up from $133,000 the previous year. After excluding overtime pay, profit sharing, and other supplemental earnings, median pre-tax income from all primary sources (salary, commissions, bonuses and net self-employment) was $135,000–a 3.85% increase from $130,000 last year.
For women and some minority groups, however, it’s another story. Women’s incomes continue to considerably trail men’s, even when experience is part of the equation. The difference in median primary income between the genders, among those working full time in their PATC, widened by $18,529–nearly $5,000 more than last year. In addition, Hispanics and African Americans reported median incomes roughly $10,000 and $20,800, respectively, below the overall median.
Other engineering salary reports are available, but the IEEE-USA Salary Survey may be the most highly regarded; this year marks the 29th such survey, and it draws the largest volume of responses. The study has been conducted most years since 1972, and in 2016, 9,637 U.S. IEEE members participated in the online survey. This number includes 7,391 working full time in their PATC, the most relevant group from both employer and employee viewpoints.
The survey is comprehensive, including differences in each respondent’s income, technology sector, level of responsibility, age, education, gender, ethnic background, geographic location, employer characteristics, and much more. Specific questions are included for the 10.4% of U.S. IEEE members who are academics. Members who indicate that at least half of their earned income is from fee-based consulting are not included; instead, they are invited to participate in the IEEE-USA Consultants Fee Survey. Information about the 2016 Consultants Fee Survey is available at: https://insight.ieeeusa.org/insight/content/ieeeusa/452484.
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According to the 2016 Salary and Benefits Survey, the typical respondent is consistent with last year’s report–a male in his late forties–with an advanced degree, and about 23 years of professional experience. He is at the fifth or sixth of nine possible levels of professional responsibility, and supervises a handful of other people, both professionals and support staff.
Engineers in the broad PATC of Communications Technology (broadcast technology, communications, consumer electronics and vehicular technology) continue earning the highest median compensation–$152,500. Those in Energy and Power Engineering continue to earn the lowest, at $121,000.
It’s a good time for engineers working in Systems and Control, which includes robotics and automaton; control systems; industrial electronics; systems, man and cybernetics; information theory; and engineering in medicine and biology subspecialties. These disciplines saw a median income increase of 8.72% in 2015–that’s more than twice what U.S. IEEE members in other fields reported last year. Other PATCs reporting more than 5% median salary increases include Electromagnetics and Radiation (5.79%), Industrial Applications (5.5%) and Computers (5.03%).
Consistent with past years, private industry still pays the most with medians of $145,894 at defense-related companies; and $142,000 at firms other than defense or utilities. Those earning the least, on average, work for utilities ($120,000) and for state or local government and educational institutions (each $110,000).
In 2015, the largest firms–those with more than 10,000 employees–paid the best, with a median annual salary of $147,000. That is $12,000 more than the overall median of $135,000. All other company sizes paid less than the median salary, with the smallest (1-10 employees) paying an average of $120,000.
U.S. IEEE members continue to work for large organizations: 27.4% are employed by firms with more than 10,000 U.S. employees; while another 37.6% work for organizations with 501 to 10,000 employees. Private, non-defense companies employ 53.2% of members in the workforce. When defense-related firms are included, the private industry share rises to 64%–almost two-thirds of members who work. Other sectors that employ significant percentages of IEEE members include utilities (12.4%), educational institutions (10.4%) and the federal government (3.3% defense, 2.9% non-defense).
Women and Some Minorities
Women in the 2016 survey, who comprise only 8.1% of all U.S. members working full time in their PATCs, continue to significantly trail men in median primary income–by $18,529. This $18,529 gap has widened substantially from the nearly $5,000 disparity reported last year. Also in 2016, the salary difference between Caucasians and African Americans also increased; the latter group earns an average of $20,800 less than the median reported salary. Hispanics reported median incomes $10,000 below the median salary.
“Since these surveys began in 1972,” notes the 2016 report, “IEEE’s U.S. members have become somewhat more diverse, but change is slow.”
Members in Academe
Since the nature of academic employment differs greatly from employment n industry, a special section of the survey helps to identify facts and trends about this small, but important segment, of U.S. members. Slightly more than 10 percent (10.4%) indicated that an academic (degree-granting) institution is their main employer. Of this group, 52.9% have a nine- or 10-month contract; 34.9% have an 11- or 12-month contract; and 12.2%, another arrangement.
Better than a third (36.6%) are full professors earning a median salary of $150,000, 17.9% are associate professors with a median salary of $104,051, and 11.6% are assistant professors earning a median of $85,553. Another 11.2% have a non-teaching research appointment. Nearly half of the academic respondents (48.1%) are tenured, with an additional 11.2% on a tenure track.
Another ongoing survey finding is that where an engineer lives and works significantly affects earnings. The 2016 study reports median incomes according to both the six U.S. IEEE regions and the nine U.S. Census Bureau divisions. In terms of IEEE’s six U.S. regions, members in Region 6 (West) earn substantially more than those in Region 4 (Central) or Region 3 (Southwest), with gaps of more than $32,500 in median primary income. Census divisions reflect similar findings, with those in the Pacific (Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and California) states faring more than $45,123 better than those in the East North Central (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio) states. However, the report observes that living costs in the West are significantly higher than elsewhere, and that geographic analyses must be interpreted with caution–because differences in engineering salaries from one area to another may be caused by variations in the industrial makeup of each region.
Benefits, Job Satisfaction
U.S. members who work full time are offered a broad assortment of benefits, although some shifts have occurred over time in the three general benefits categories: pension and retirement; health and insurance; and miscellaneous, which includes employer support for professional association dues and conferences. In the 2001 survey, employers offered 55% of full time workers “defined benefit” retirement plans. Such plans promise employees a certain amount, if they meet the terms of the plan, which could include a minimum number of years of service. In keeping with the broad societal trend, in 2016 that proportion dropped to 31.8%.
22% of employers now offer profit sharing plans, down from roughly 38% in 2001. Stock option offers have diminished even more–from 49% in 2001, to 24% in 2016.
On the other hand, extensive health benefits are offered to virtually all full time workers. More than 90% are offered basic health and dental insurance, both for themselves and their dependents. Almost 90% were offered prescription drug coverage; and 88.1% were offered coverage for eyeglasses, lenses and exams. The same percentage were offered life insurance and disability care.
This year, 54.2% of members reported their employers paid their professional association membership fees. However, the proportion who were offered paid attendance for professional conferences has dropped to 67.8%–a 10-point drop in slightly more than 10 years.
Finally, a series of questions asked since 1997 measures members’ general sense of satisfaction with their work. Although satisfaction levels took a big step backward in 2005, they are beginning to regain some ground. Still, favorable responses continue to outweigh unfavorable responses. Members are most satisfied with the technical challenges of their jobs, and least satisfied with advancement opportunities. A slightly smaller proportion (less than one in five) is dissatisfied with current compensation.
For more information on the 2016 IEEE-USA Salary & Benefits Survey or to purchase a copy, go to: https://shop.ieeeusa.org/usashop/product/careers/442657.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.