What's changed for women in federal service

Monday - 6/6/2011, 10:40am EDT

James Tsugawa, Senior Research Analyst; Cynthia Ferentinos, the Senior Research Psychologist, Office of Policy and Evaluation, MSPB

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

A lot has changed in the last 20 years, especially for women who work in the federal government.

The Merit Systems Protection Board has just updated a 1992 study of women and opportunity.

In 1992, a glass ceiling was found to be limiting the advancement of women in the federal government. James Tsugawa, Senior Research Analyst in the Office of Policy and Evaluation, at MSPB told Federal News Radio, the most recent study finds "a great deal of progress that's been made."

With women making up 11 percent of the senior executives in 1990 and more than 30 percent now, said Tsugawa, "our sense is that issues such as sex-based discrimination and stereotyping, although they haven't gone away, are much less an issue than they were."

Dr. Cynthia Ferentinos, the Senior Research Psychologist in the same office cautioned, "we've certainly seen progress, but unfortunately, sometimes closing the last bit of the gap is the hardest. We're looking now at thing that are relatively entrenched in the government".

Ferentinos credited more opportunities for women to advance, and an increase in opportunities for women in education and experience "which has allowed them to be much more competitive at the higher levels."

Changes over the past 20 years include educating and encouraging mangers, said Ferentinos, "to make sure that they're focusing on those job related characteristics - the education, the experience - and the other qualifications that make people qualified for their jobs and not irrelevant characteristics such as their sex, or their marital status, or family status."

Tsuwaga noted some the differences between the private and public sectors.

"One of the things that the federal government offers that I think private sectors don't always is the opportunity for people to work their way up the ranks, and certainly it's important that you do a good job in your current job, work hard, but if you make that transition into a professional occupation or an administrative occupation, something like IT or HR, I think it's important for employees to know that that's a real career change and it takes not only hard work but a change in outlook as well as continuing effort to develop your technical knowledge as well as skills in things like project management, interpersonal relations, and I think it helps if agencies tell employees what they're looking for and give them some guidelines for how to manage the transition successfully."

Even with the progress that has been made, Ferentinos cautioned that federal managers can't stop now and just wait for more progress to occur.

For more on what has changed, and what remains, listen to the entire interview using the audio player at the top of the page.