The federal government in recent years has been hiring significantly more men than women than it did previously, according to data released this week.

Women accounted for 43 percent of federal hires in 2000 but by 2012 that percentage had fallen by six points to 37 percent, the Merit Systems Protection Board said in a quarterly publication.


Co-workers at the FAA, from left, Dan Chong, Yvonne Byrd and Mara Jenkins, enjoy lunch outside their building in October 2013.
(Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

While MSPB is best known for hearing appeals of disciplinary actions against federal employees, it also produces reports on personnel issues. It gathered the data on hiring by gender for a study of whether competition for jobs is fair and open; while that study is ongoing, it “revealed a trend that we want to bring to the attention of Federal agencies and hiring managers,” MSPB said.

It said that “many factors affect the proportion of women in the applicant pool and, ultimately, the representation of women among new hires.”

One such issue is that the government hires in several ways other than standard competitive examination, and “most of the methods used to hire new employees in 2012 resulted in a greater proportion of males than females entering the Federal workforce,” it said.

For example, in competitive examining and student hiring, males accounted for 80 percent of new hires for information technology jobs, 83 percent for engineering jobs, and 92 percent for police officer occupations, three fields where the government has beefed up its workforce in recent years.

Similarly, the publication cited the use of several special hiring authorities for veterans as part of the government’s increased emphasis on hiring veterans.

“Our research shows that as use of veterans hiring authorities increased, the percentage of female new hires decreased,” MSPB said, adding that the result is “not surprising given that the active duty military is over 80% male.”

On the other hand, women made up 61 percent of those hired under an authority called direct hire, which is commonly used in the female-dominated nursing occupation.

“This certainly is an ominous trend and is further proof that women still are not breaking into those “non-traditional female” jobs like IT technology,” Janet Kopenhaver, Washington representative of Federally Employed Women, said in an e-mail.

“Considering that more and more women are either the sole or major breadwinners in their families, obtaining employment in the federal government would greatly help these families,” she said. “While FEW does not condone hiring unqualified employees, we do believe more outreach could be made to women to find qualified females who could be hired. Plus more training in these non-traditional jobs needs to be offered to women in order for them to have a more diverse skill set.”

Separate data from the Office of Personnel Management show that the federal workforce, excluding the U.S. Postal Service, was 45 percent female in September 2000 but just 43.8 percent in March of this year, the most recent quarter for which figures are available.

Said MSPB, “An over-reliance on too few hiring authorities may not be healthy for an organization’s culture, as those authorities may not result in a workforce that is representative of society. Agencies should take care when hiring the majority of their employees through just one or two authorities that limit eligibility to a particular segment of society.”