Can Women Crack the Federal Glass Ceiling?

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has released information revealing that about a third of managers in the Federal Service are women. That figure compares to only 15% of women in private industry. Although the Feds might outpace female managers in private industry there remains a significant gap between women and men in the upper echelons of government.

The elite cadre of federal employees are those designated as Senior Executive Service (SES) members where the perks and pay are superior to the rest of the Federal service. The glass ceiling remains impenetrable for the majority of women in the Federal service. The SES continues to be dominated by men.

Woman and Federal Service

What is the Federal service doing to change that dynamic? The Veteran’s Administration (VA) commissioned the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to conduct an exhaustive study in 2008 to look at the issue of diversity and inclusion. How to diversify the top levels of government from an all-white male presence to a picture that resembles the demographics of the nation continues to be one of the government’s greatest challenges.

Perhaps OPM will get rid of the age-old path to the SES level – responding to Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs) and Technical Qualifications (TQs). Granted effective writing and oral communication skills are essential in any profession, government must look to other ways to change the face of career SES.

The SES is not the only area of government with an impenetrable glass ceiling, but grade levels above the GS-13 are also not representative of the demographics of the nation. Women and minorities face difficult challenges trying to reach the level of a GS-15. If something is not done at the GS-15 level to increase the presence of women and minorities, getting to the SES will be a virtual impossibility. The Federal Government’s personnel policies and guidelines generally require that one has functioned at the grade level immediately below the grade where they are seeking a promotion. If you want to achieve the rank of a GS-13 you must have held a position equivalent to the GS-12 level.

Many of the federal hiring and promotion policies and procedures are outdated and fail to give fair and equal opportunities to the masses. The Federal Government continues to push for diversity and inclusion, yet it remains an entity that seemingly has blinders on when it comes to making that goal a realty. As mentioned previously, the VA’s study was exhaustive. It would be interesting to compare the demographics of the VA workforce today to what it was in 2008 when the study was commissioned.

Federal Agency Diversity Goals

What happens to agencies when they don’t meet diversity and inclusion goals. Obviously not much, because diversity and inclusion goals are still not being met all over the Federal Government. Diversity and inclusion goals are not being met across the country in both the private and public sectors. Not reaching diversity and inclusion goals is simply a matter of not knowing how to do it. Training is not appropriate and personnel specialists, directors and even Chief Human Capital Officers are plagued about how to diversify the Federal workforce.

Women can crack the federal glass ceiling if they stop agreeing that the pinnacle of leadership belongs to men. Did women strongly support Geraldine Ferraro in her run for the Vice Presidency? Is the U.S. Congress still dominated by men? Do women vote in local and national elections? Are there no suitable and qualified women available to run for Congress across the 50 contiguous United States?

It is time the Federal human resources community come together and make a real commitment to diversity and inclusion. It has been a buzz phrase far too long, now let’s make it a part of the natural order of things. That’s the way effective Government runs – by advancing equal and open opportunities to the masses – which can shatter the federal glass ceiling.

P. S. Always Remember to Share What You Know.
Dianna Tafazoli

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