Pay gap shrinks between female and male feds

Friday - 4/11/2014, 12:16pm EDT

Female federal employees earn on average 87 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, according to a new review from the Office of Personnel Management.

Still, the pay gap between men and women in the white-collar federal workforce has dropped significantly over the past 20 years. In 1992, female feds earned just 70 cents for every dollar earned by male employees. Another sign of progress: Across many individual occupations and grades, men and women now earn comparable levels of pay, according to OPM's new report.

"But while our report shows the progress that we've made, we won't be satisfied until women working in federal jobs earn the same as their male counterparts, at every level," OPM Director Katherine Archuleta said in a blog post announcing the agency's new governmentwide strategy on advancing equal pay.

OPM's review found much of the continued pay disparity between male and female feds can be explained by their presence in different occupational categories.

For example, while women have a 10 percent lower average starting salary compared to men, they tend to be over-represented in occupations with lower maximum salaries and under-represented in higher-paying occupations, such as the science, technology engineering and math (STEM) fields.

OPM's new strategy calls on agencies to develop recruitment and outreach strategies to increase the number of female employees in areas where they are currently under-represented, including supervisory and management roles and in STEM fields. It also aims to clarify the flexibilities that agencies have in setting starting pay levels under the General Schedule system and to share best practices on how to do so in a gender-neutral way.

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Difference in starting salaries

By grade level, OPM found no significant gaps between male and female salaries. However, there are disproportionately more female federal employees in lower- paying grade levels with lower average starting salaries, according to the review.

Another explanation for lower starting salaries?

Under the GS system, hiring managers have the authority to set pay for new hires above the initial first step of a grade level. OPM found that this discretionary authority is used more for male employees, and, in general, is more heavily used in occupations that are male-dominated.

The pay gap narrows once women reach the managerial ranks. Female managers earn 95.6 cents for every dollar earned by male managers. The gap virtually disappears for women in the top ranks of the Senior Executive Service. Female SESers are paid 99.2 cents for each dollar paid to male SES members.

However, women only make up a third of federal employees in these supervisory or managerial posts.

"That's why we have made it a top priority to mentor women who hold GS-14 and GS- 15 positions to advance into SES jobs," Archuleta said.

However, in contrast to the findings on starting salaries and and base pay, OPM's report noted that white-collar female federal workers are not necessarily struggling to climb the career ladder.

Women received out-of-cycle, "quality step" increases based on outstanding performance more frequently than men did, according to the report. Female federal employees, on average, were also more likely to receive promotions than their male counterparts, according to the report.

OPM says no changes to GS system needed

In addition to clarifying agencies' pay-setting responsibilities and boosting recruitment strategies, OPM's new strategy calls on agencies to report and post salary tables for those positions that fall outside the GS system.

OPM said it would also work with agencies to come up with best practices and guidance for increasing promotion opportunities for part-time employees, a majority of whom are women.

However, the agency said it's not recommending any governmentwide changes to the GS system.

"After a comprehensive review of agency reports, there were no indicators that changes to the GS classification system would assist in addressing any gender pay gap," the report stated.

Last May, President Barack Obama memo tasking OPM with studying whether agency practices or the pay system contribute to a pay inequalities between men and women

This week, Obama signed a presidential memo requiring federal contractors to provide data to the Labor Department showing employee salaries by gender and race. Obama also issued an executive order prohibiting contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their pay.

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