Report: Women still face ‘significant obstacles’ in advancing federal careers

Women are still encountering enormous hurdles when it comes to advancing their careers in federal service. That’s according to a report released today by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“While women have made enormous strides in federal employment, there are still significant obstacles which hinder their advancement,” said Carlton M. Hadden, director of EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations, in a statement.

EEOC’s internal agency work group assembled the report based on in-depth research and conversations with stakeholder groups representing working women. It also also reached out to non-federal interest and advocacy groups and solicited input from Dr. Paula Caplan, director of the Voices of Diversity Project at Harvard University’s W.E.B. Dubois Institute.

In 2011, women accounted for 43.81 percent of the federal workforce, but only 37.77 percent of GS-14 and GS-15 positions, and 30.03 percent of the Senior Executive Service. The average General Schedule and Related grade level for women was 9.6, compared to an average of 10.7 for men.

The report, which is based on EEOC’s Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2012-2016, identified six overall obstacles facing women:

  • “Inflexible workplace policies create challenges for women with caregiver obligations in the federal workforce.
  • “Higher-level and management positions remain harder to obtain for women.
  • “Women are underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields in the federal workforce.
  • “Women and men do not earn the same average salary in the federal government.
  • “Unconscious gender biases and stereotypical perceptions about women still play an important role in employment decisions in the federal sector.
  • “There is a perception that federal agencies lack commitment to achieving equal opportunities for women in the federal workplace.”

Lack of mentoring to blame?

The report didn’t just identify these obstacles, it also presented issues that contributed to them and offered possible solutions for agencies.

“Most of our dialogue partners identified a lack of mentoring as a factor in many women’s inability to attain higher level and management positions in the federal sector,” the report said. “According to the Office of Personnel Management, ‘Mentoring is usually a formal or informal relationship between two people — a senior mentor (usually outside the protégé’s chain of supervision) and a junior protégé.'”

The report recommended that each agency establish a formal mentoring program that would be overseen by a program manager. Mentoring should be gender neutral. Also, supervisors and mentors should work with employees to develop an individual mentoring plan.

“While the pay gap is not as significant as it is in the private sector, women typically make less money than men in the federal government,” the report said. “Further, our dialogue partners reported that stereotypes continue to exist about what positions and roles are considered ‘traditional’ female roles, and those stereotypes influence women’s abilities to move beyond those positions within the federal government.”

In conducting its research, EEOC noted that women faced similar obstacles toward advancement in the private sector. Also, the same obstacles faced employees in other sectors of the federal workforce.

“The following obstacles and issues were also reported in our federal sector reports as obstacles for Hispanics, Asian American Pacific Islanders, individuals with disabilities, and/or African Americans: lack of sufficient training; lack of sufficient mentorship opportunities; lack of developmental assignments; underrepresentation in higher level positions; underrepresentation in STEM positions; lack of demonstrable commitment from agency leaders; lack of management accountability for EEO in performance appraisals and award criteria; lack of effective agency accountability for violations of EEO regulations and findings of discrimination; and unconscious biases that influence personnel decisions,” the report said.


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