The Washington Post

Report shows lack of diversity in top civil service ranks


The latest annual Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) report on the federal workplace is not happy summer reading for diversity advocates.

The numbers, graphs and tables document a story they know too well.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns. View Archive

Despite well-meaning efforts and all the right things said by Obama administration officials, racial, ethnic and gender diversity in the federal workplace remains a quest. The percentage of women in the workforce dropped slightly, while percentages for Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders rose almost imperceptibly from fiscal 2010 to 2011. There is a higher percentage of African Americans in the workforce than in the population, but that’s certainly not so in management.

As with previous reports, it is in the upper reaches of the federal civil service where Uncle Sam’s hoped-for reputation as a model employer takes a hit.

“While the federal government continues to be a leader in workforce diversity, further progress is needed for it to become a model workplace for all employees,” said Carlton Hadden, director of the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations. “Agencies should pay particular attention to increasing diversity among the Senior Executive Service [SES] and at the highest grade levels, as well as enhancing recruitment and retention of people with targeted disabilities.”

African Americans were 18 percent of the federal workforce in 2011, but just 8 percent of the senior service. Latinos were 8 percent of the workforce, less than their portion of the population, and under 4 percent of the top ranks. For women, the respective figures were 44 percent and 30 percent. White men easily jumped over this dismal pattern. They were 39 percent of the workforce, yet 59.5 percent of senior-level employees.

But SES diversity is improving, according to an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) report for 2012. It says the SES percentages are 10.5 for black employees, 4.1 for Latinos and 33.5 for women.

“Steadily we’re seeing each group is improving each year,” said Veronica Villalobos, OPM’s diversity director.

Diversity advocates, however, are not satisfied with the latest EEOC stats.

“Three restrictive factors curtail African Americans’ career advancement to higher graded positions in the federal sector,” Tanya Ward Jordan, founder of the Coalition for Change, said in an e-mail. “These factors include: race discrimination, retaliation for exposing internal abuses, and favoritism (de facto discrimination) where whites, largely males in power, simply hire those who look like themselves.

“The dismal percentage of blacks in senior pay level management positions is a manifestation of the systemic race discrimination managers engage in when hiring applicants for first-level and mid-level management jobs. White employees are often groomed for higher -level positions,” she wrote.

The “key takeaway” for Gilbert Sandate, chairman of the Coalition for Fairness for Hispanics in Government, “is that Hispanics remain the only racial or ethnic group underrepresented in the federal workforce, by a large margin.”

Janet Kopenhaver, Washington representative of Federally Employed Women, urged the Obama administration to “revamp the Federal Women’s Program which has a proven success rate in the past in helping women move up the career ladder, providing mentoring and training opportunities for women, and assisting women with discrimination issues.”

Meanwhile, the percentage of women in the federal workforce dropped, albeit barely, to 43.8 in 2011, from 43.9 the year before, “after a slow but steady increase,” according to the EEOC.

For racial and ethnic groups, the workforce changes were:

●African Americans, 17.94 percent in 2010 to 17.97 percent in 2011.

●Latinos, 7.90 percent to 7.95 percent.

●Asians, 5.90 percent to 5.95 percent.

●Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders, 0.36 percent to 0.38 percent.

Latinos, women generally and white women “remained below their overall availability in the national civilian labor force, as reported in the 2000 census,” the EEOC said.

Despite a small increase in the year-to-year rate for people with disabilities, the longer view shows their employment rate declining. From 2002 through 2011, the rate dropped to 0.90 percent, from 1.07 percent.

Employment of people with disabilities “fell far short of the 2.00% goal,” the EEOC said.

Curiously, 2011 also saw a drop in the number of agencies that issued a key anti-discrimination document.

According to Equal Employment Opportunity Management Directive 715 (MD-715), “Agency heads must issue a written policy statement expressing their commitment to EEO and a workplace free of discriminatory harassment. This statement should be issued at the beginning of their tenure and thereafter on an annual basis and disseminated to all employees.”

But only 56.4 percent of the agencies issued the written policy statement in 2011, a big drop from 85.4 percent in 2010.

The directive says, “Commitment to equal employment opportunity must be embraced by agency leadership and communicated through the ranks from the top down.”

This raises the question: Does the low percentage of agencies issuing the policy statement in 2011 say anything about their commitment to equal employment opportunity?

Maybe it’s something as benign as the introduction of a new computing tool that contributed to the decrease.

“It’s something we have to look further into,” said Jamie Price, an EEOC assistant director. “I truly believe most of our agencies are doing the best that they can.”

Unfortunately, that’s not good enough.

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at



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