Women in the Senior Executive Service rate themselves as more influential than their male counterparts on a variety of activities, according to a study published in the current issue of an academic journal.
SES women said they were somewhat better than SES men in several areas, such as giving advice to agency bosses, persuading others to follow their recommendations, setting priorities for their organization, recommending changes to regulations and initiating policy ideas, the study found.
"The executive women studied here simply do not appear to be stuck in relatively powerless positions," the study said. ". . .Instead, this research suggests that women's advancement appears real, not contrived to produce a semblance of gender diversity in the federal executive service."
Data for the study come from a survey conducted in the winter of 1996 by researcher Julie Dolan. Although the results are dated, Dolan said they probably reflect current views in the SES because of the large sample size and because there is little turnover in SES ranks from year to year.
"If you did the survey today, you would find comparable things," she said in an interview.
Still, the study acknowledged that the timing of the underlying survey could be a factor in how SES women assessed their influence. The survey was conducted during the Clinton administration, "which touted an outstanding record of appointing female executives, and so it is not surprising these female executives reported relatively high levels of influence," the study said.
Dolan's study -- "Gender Equity: Illusion or Reality for Women in the Federal Executive Service?" -- was published in Public Administration Review, which appears six times a year. Dolan is an assistant professor of political science at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.
In her study, she found that men and women in the SES share similar responsibilities and that the gains made by women in the SES over the last decade "seem genuine, not illusory."
That conclusion runs counter to some previous studies, which examined women who climbed the job ladder in state and municipal levels of government. Those studies found women typically ended up in less powerful positions than their male colleagues.
The SES, established in 1978, is the government's top group of managers and technical experts. Many of them run the government's day-to-day operations and report to Cabinet secretaries, agency heads and other top-level political appointees.
According to the most recent tally by the Office of Personnel Management, there were 1,867 women and 5,252 men in the SES at the end of last year.
The size of the SES, counting career and non-career positions, has dropped by more than 1,200 since 1992. But the OPM data show that women, as a percentage of the SES, have increased, from 12.3 percent in September 1992 to 26.2 percent in December 2003.
Dolan said more research is needed to explain perceptions involving gender in the SES.
For example, in agencies that have leeway under the law in administering benefit and grant programs, her survey found that SES women saw themselves as influential and gave themselves higher marks than did SES men.
The SES men in these agencies, meanwhile, accorded themselves lesser influence than did SES men.
"Why such a chasm persists in the self-perceived influence of male and female executives is not clear," the study said.
One possible answer may be that the Clinton administration's record of hiring women for leadership positions spilled over into how SES women viewed themselves and their jobs, the study suggested.
The SES women's view of their influence also may be a result of their ambition to make it into the SES and the possibility "that they may have succeeded by adopting strategies that also work for men," the study added.
Interestingly, Dolan's survey does not seem to indicate that SES women see themselves as holding sway in the recruitment of employees, compared with other areas of perceived influence. The women rated themselves as having influence of a "limited extent" over recruitment.
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