Report: Women in the Federal Government: Ambitions and Achievements
The May 2011 report from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board finds that women have made many advances in federal government employment but also still find many challenges in the progress toward equality.
From the Executive Summary:
There have been many changes in American society since [the 1992 report, A Question of Equity: Women and the Glass Ceiling in the Federal Government,], and those changes have been mirrored in the Federal Government. Over the past two decades, the Federal Government has made substantial progress in hiring and advancing women in the Federal workforce. More women are employed in positions in professional and administrative occupations, which offer the greatest opportunities for pay and advancement. Increases in the representation of women in the executive ranks have outpaced projections from MSPB’s 1992 study. Pay differences between women and men have been considerably reduced.
These tangible gains have been accompanied by substantial, if less visible, improvements in Federal workplaces and the work lives of Federal employees. Fewer women believe that they have been subjected to overt or subtle discrimination at work. MSPB’s analysis of General Schedule promotion rates supports a belief that the prevalence and force of stereotypical assumptions about the abilities and appropriate roles of women have greatly diminished. Although women and men can differ in career factors such as occupation, family responsibilities, geographic mobility, and interest in supervisory roles, women are about as likely as men to be promoted when factors such as occupation, experience, and education are held equal.
Contributors to this progress include changes in American society that have expanded the opportunities available to women and changes in the civilian labor force that have expanded the pool of highly-qualified women in many occupations. Within the Federal Government, those changes are reflected in diminishing differences between women and men in important characteristics such as education and experience. That trend, combined with a continued interest in career advancement among women in the Federal Government, bodes well for future gains in the representation of women at the highest levels of pay and responsibility, including the Senior Executive Service. Much credit is also due to agency efforts to recruit and advance women, to reduce the incidence of prohibited discrimination, to provide greater flexibility in work arrangements, and to focus on contributions and skills—rather than on indirect and unreliable indicators of performance and dedication such as time spent in the office or irrelevant factors such as marital status and family responsibilities—when evaluating and promoting employees.
Still, progress toward full equality is not yet complete. Women remain less likely than men to be employed in high-paying occupations and supervisory positions. That reflects, in part, continuing occupational differences between women and men in the Federal workforce and the broader civilian labor force. Women have made great strides in entering occupations such as physician and attorney, but remain relatively scarce in fields such as law enforcement, information technology, and engineering—fields important to the current and future Federal workforce. Also, even within a given occupation, women often have lower salaries than men, and those salary differences cannot be fully explained by differences in measurable factors such as experience and education.
Agencies and stakeholders should also be aware that future progress may come less easily than past progress. First, occupational differences persist between women and men in both American society and Federal workplaces. Such occupational differences can complicate recruitment and create glass walls—barriers to movement across organizations, functions, or occupations—within the Federal workforce, resulting in different opportunities for women and men even if they are comparable in terms of educational attainment, years of experience, and performance. Second, agencies have increased their use of external hiring and upper-level hiring to fill positions in professional and administrative occupations. Women are increasingly successful in employment competitions of all types, reflecting diminishing differences in critical factors such as education, experience, and career interests. Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, women are generally less likely to be hired when an agency fills a position through external (as opposed to internal) recruitment or fills a position at upperlevel instead of entry-level.
Also, sex-based discrimination and stereotypes have not yet completely disappeared. Even in the absence of overt discrimination, many employees continue to believe that women are subjected to unfounded assumptions about their abilities or dedication to work. However, most issues that are critical to the fair treatment and advancement of women are universal. For example, concerns about the role of favoritism in personnel decisions are widespread and shared equally by women and men. Other issues important to both women and men include the recruitment and selection of supervisors, career management (e.g., helping employees understand what is required to advance), and balancing demanding jobs with life/family responsibilities.