EEOC: Women still face bias in hiring, advancement in federal service

Tuesday - 12/24/2013, 11:19am EST

Alexis Howard, Women's Work Group, EEOC

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This year, women made great strides in breaking federal glass ceilings. The Pentagon has ordered services to open more combat positions to women, and it looks like Janet Yellen will become the first female Fed chief.

Yet the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission felt compelled to release a report on obstacles to women's achievement in federal offices.

In 2010, Office of Federal Operations Director Carlton Hadden directed attorneys inside EEOC to put together a work group that would reach out to equal employment opportunity representatives, affiinty groups and diversity organizations to talk about the challenges facing women in the federal workforce.

Alexis Howard, who leads EEOC's Women's Work Group, told Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp that the dialogue partners found that women had fewer opportunities to be groomed for management positions. This was because women were less likely to be in the management position and, therefore, weren't in a position to mentor other women.

"People generally tend to groom people who are like themselves," Howard said. "So, if a man is a manager, he's going to tend to groom another man. When women tend to hold caregiver positions, so they might go home right after work because they have to tend to their children, a lot of times networking occurs after work hours, perhaps in a less formal environment, like at a happy hour or something after work. So, it's less chance that women are receiving that important advice that you share in a more casual environment."

The report also found that women had unequal opportunities for training and developmental assignments. Women are being steered into non-management tracks and positions, usually careers that are perceived to be more "female," such as nursing and administrative jobs.

"Generally, employers tend to not target women in recruitment efforts for upper level and management positions and the selection panels for said positions often don't have a diverse representation of both men and women," Howard said.

Many agencies already have in place initiatives aimed at preventing bias in hiring and helping people from various groups receive an equal opportunity for advancement.

Improving hiring by promoting STEM education

One area of under-representation the work group focused on concerned STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] education.

"Perhaps girls are not being steered toward STEM education so that when they get out of school they don't have the qualifications that would be needed to get a STEM position," Howard said.

The Department of Energy, for example, has a mentoring program in which female undergraduate STEM students in the Washington, D.C., area are paired with female employees. Likewise, NASA has teamed with the Girl Scouts to promote STEM education for young women.

"Also, the White House has women and girls in STEM in the Educate to Innovate campaign to expand STEM education and career opportunities for under-represented groups, including women," Howard said

Compared to the private sector, where women like Marillyn A. Hewson, the CEO of Lockheed Martin, can lead a large, technology-oriented corporation, it seems that the federal government is lagging behind in promoting women to upper management.

"It seems like in every industry you're going to have role models there, instances where we see women heading up these federal contractors and the major companies in STEM fields," Howard said. "But, as a whole, women are still under-represented. So, our dialogue partners reported that generally, for instance, with Lockheed Martin, because a STEM degree is required for many or most of those type of positions, any gender disparities in STEM educational attainment will reverberate in federal sector employment."

Each year, agencies must conduct a barrier analysis to identify barriers women and other protected groups may be facing and what the agencies are doing to mitigate them. They're also required to report their analysis annually to the EEOC in their MD-715 report.

Recently, President Barack Obama directed the Office of Personnel Management to look at the pay gap between men and women in the federal service. EEOC has been working with the National Equal Pay Task Force to assist on this effort.

"There will be a release of updated statistics for the federal workforce that provides more insight into what the current state of pay is for men and women in the federal workforce," Howard said. "The White House website for the Council for Women and Girls has a lot of information that might help other agencies determine what the problems are and perhaps how the EEOC can help."

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