Hiring rate stalls for women in top federal government jobs

Janet Kopenhaver of FEW has been working with a White House council and the Office of Personnel Management.
Janet Kopenhaver of FEW has been working with a White House council and the Office of Personnel Management. (Susan Dyer)
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By Joe Davidson
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Progress in promoting women to the top levels of the federal civil service has flowed like the mighty Mississippi River in the springtime.


Lately, it's been more like a leaky faucet in Uncle Sam's kitchen.

While men and women are close to being equally represented in the lower grades of the federal workforce, "at the higher levels women are woefully falling short of their male counterparts," says a new report by the group Federally Employed Women, appropriately referred to as FEW.

Between 1992 and 2003, women were breaking through the glass ceiling at a pretty good clip, more than doubling their participation in the government's Senior Executive Service from 12.3 percent to 26.2 percent, according to numbers FEW took from Office of Personnel Management reports.

But then things slowed like a river before a dam.

Between 2006 and 2009, the proportion of women in SES barley moved, from 28.7 percent to 29.9 percent. "Increasing the ranks of women in the SES less than one percentage point every two years is absolutely unacceptable," FEW says with an understandable sense of indignation.

Though FEW is upset with the federal government, it has good things to say about the White House and the Office of Personnel Management under President Obama.

The White House Council on Women and Girls and OPM have been "very, very receptive," said Janet Kopenhaver, FEW's Washington representative.

Christine M. Griffin, OPM's deputy director, said her office and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, her former agency, are working to "ensure that federal agencies remove all remaining barriers to women's advancement in SES and senior pay levels."

But having allies in the White House and at OPM doesn't mean the problems have disappeared. FEW provides some solutions. At the top of the list is training.

By far, FEW says, its "members cite the lack of training and cross-training as a major impediment to women moving into the top levels of the federal government." FEW has sponsored its own national training program, even as it has watched the government's training budget fall.

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