EEOC Identifies Obstacles Women Still Face in Federal Workforce

The EEOC recently released a new study that examines obstacles women are still facing in the federal workplace.  The report was prepared by an internal EEOC work group explicitly commissioned for the study, and was produced with input from a number of federal and non-federal interest and advocacy groups.  It identifies six specific obstacles women are experiencing that are hindering them from equal employment opportunities in the Federal Government, outlined below:

1.  Inflexible workplace policies create challenges for women with caregiver obligations in the federal workforce.

The report recognizes that:

Despite a greater presence of women working outside of the home, “Women continue to be most families’ primary caregivers.”  In writing for the Supreme Court in 2003, Chief Justice Rehnquist stated that “the faultline between work and family [is] precisely where sex-based overgeneralization has been and remains strongest.”

Our Guidance noted that women who have caregiving responsibilities “may be perceived as more committed to caregiving than to their jobs and as less competent than other workers, regardless of how their caregiving responsibilities actually impact their work.”

2. Higher-level and management positions remain harder to obtain for women.

Despite making a good deal of progress in the attainment of higher-level positions, the report states that the percentage of women in these positions compared to men remains inadequate.

“Women only comprised 37.77% of GS-14 and GS-15 positions, and 30.03% of Senior Executive Service positions,” the report mentions.  Additionally, the average pay grade for women was more than one grade below the average pay grade for men.

Mentoring, it seems, may play a factor in this statistic:

The dialogue partners noted that most current managers and senior executives were groomed for their positions by mentors who steered and prepared them for career advancement. Our partners maintained that few management officials formally mentor any employees, and even fewer mentor women because managers and senior executives tend to groom employees for advancement who are most similar to themselves. Our partners stated that because most managers are not women, inequality is often reproduced and creates a profound disadvantage for women.

3.  Women are underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields in the federal workforce.

The study reports that disparities in educational attainment have had a direct effect on the percentage of women represented in the above fields.

Women earn substantially fewer degrees in the rapidly growing and higher paying STEM fields of computer sciences, mathematics, statistics, physical sciences, earth sciences, and engineering.  Specifically, from 2001 through 2010, women only received 18.4 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering, 43.1 percent of bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and statistics, 41.3 percent of bachelor’s degrees in physical sciences, 39.3 percent of bachelor’s degrees in earth, atmospheric and ocean sciences, and 18.2 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences.

The study goes on to state that even when women have degrees within these fields, they are less likely to be hired, promoted, or supported than their male counterparts:

Researchers reported that in rating applicants for a laboratory position, science faculty participants rated a male candidate as significantly more competent than a female candidate with an identical application.  Additionally, participants were more likely to hire the male candidate than the female candidate, as well as assign him a higher starting salary and offer the male candidate more career mentoring.

4.  Women and men do not earn the same average salary in the federal government.

Despite the fact that women have recently surpassed men in obtaining higher-education degrees, a disparity remains in the amount of compensation women are receiving compared to men who have similarly situated positions.

Studies show that in the federal workforce, the gender pay gap still exists, although it has declined and is not as significant as it currently is in the private sector.  For example, a study conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that in the federal sector in 1988, women earned 72 cents for every dollar a Man earned (a 28 cent difference).  In 1998, federal sector women earned 81 cents for every dollar a Man earned (a 19 cent difference).  And in 2007, federal sector women earned 89 cents for every dollar a Man earned (an 11 cent difference).  The study concluded that seven cents of the current gender gap cannot be accounted for by measurable factors and may be the result of discriminatory practices.

Unfortunately, African American and Hispanic women have it even worse:

Studies[] have found that the gender pay gap is even worse for women who are also part of a minority racial or national origin group. For example, in the private sector, African American women earn only 64 cents for every dollar a Man earns, and Hispanic women earn only 55 cents for every dollar a Man earns.

5.  Unconscious gender biases and stereotypical perceptions about women still play an important role in employment decisions in the federal sector.

The study notes that “discrimination towards women today tends to be more subtle and can often be directly attributable to unconscious gender bias. Unconscious bias is defined as ‘social behavior . . . driven by learned stereotypes that operate automatically – and therefore unconsciously – when we interact with other people.'”

[W]ith regard to women, unconscious gender biases result in management viewing female applicants and current employees in predetermined ways. One dialogue partner noted that this is a particularly troubling issue in the recruitment and selection processes where hiring decisions are unknowingly based on whether a candidate has similar characteristics to the recruitment or selecting official. This phenomenon, referred to as the “Mini-Me Syndrome,” is problematic for females because the majority of recruitment and selecting officials are male, and they are unaware that they are subconsciously filtering candidates based on their gender.

6. There is a perception that federal agencies lack commitment to achieving equal opportunities for women in the federal workplace.

Based on the rest of the obstacles the study found, this one probably could go without saying.  The study found that there is a noticeable lack of EEO resources available in federal agency workplaces, and that when EEO violations do occur within an agency, the parties responsible are not often held accountable for their actions.

The dialogue partners also stated that when an Agency is found to have discriminated against an employee, the Agency is not adequately held accountable for the discrimination. The dialogue partners noted that when the Commission only orders Agencies to consider disciplining the responsible management officials, Agencies usually do not discipline responsible management officials. The dialogue partners stated that this unfair practice sends a strong message to employees that EEO is not a priority within the Agency and that discriminators can get away with their illegal conduct.

The revelations in this study are cause for concern, as it appears that a great deal of gender bias and discrimination is still occurring within the Federal Government.  Hopefully, now that this study has been released, more attention will be paid to enforcing equal employment opportunity laws and regulations, or the very least, it will encourage more female government employees to come forward with their complaints of discrimination.

You can read the full report here.  It has a wealth of information and includes a number of the EEOC’s suggestions to help remedy the problem of gender bias and discrimination in the federal workplace.

Hat tip to Workplace Prof Blog for alerting us to the release of this study.

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