The government provides numerous safeguards against gender discrimination in federal employment. However, those securities are often neglected or discarded by uninformed employees who don’t know their rights or how to access them within the government bureaucracy.
Nicole Mason, Esq. hopes to change that by educating federally employed women about their rights. Mason serves as Vice President for Compliance at Federally Employed Women (FEW), in addition to her full-time work as EEO/Diversity Program Manager for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
In an interview with GovLoop, she explained how her role at FEW helps her engage and empower women against discrimination in the workplace. She also explained why she chose FEW as her venue for engagement.
“When I was a student at Howard University, I had two mentors helping me transition from being a student to a federal employee,” Mason said. “They were both women who had come up through the ranks of federal service. They started at grades 1 and 2 and, by the time I met them, they were grades 14 and 15. They did not just encourage me, but they pretty much insisted that I join FEW. They thought of it as a viable way to network, enhance my resume, and said it was just a good organization to be a part of.”
Ensuring Rights Compliance for Women
Years later, Mason has reaped the rewards from FEW participation and is now focused on paying it forward to new generations of federally employed women. “FEW remains a vital organization,” she said. “We ought not get lullabied into believing that we, as women, have arrived just because we have a few more women in senior level positions of government. There is still more work to do, not just in federal government, but across all industries.”
As the VP for Compliance, Mason executes two primary responsibilities to offer that support. “One of the chief duties for this position is to ensure that our members are well-versed in their rights as employees,” she said. “That has to do with the federal compliance process, how to file a complaint, and where to go. With that, we have our partnerships with local law firms, Tully Rinckey, PLLC and Shaw Bransford & Roth. Our members receive a discounted rate if they pursue a claim against the government.”
“The other component is maintaining our memorandums of understanding [MOUs] with the different federal agencies to ensure that they’re providing us with information about their complaints programs,” Mason continued. “Of course, that’s public information but we really like to collaborate with the different federal agencies. And so we have a number of MOUs with different agencies.”
Most recently, FEW signed a MOU with the Veteran’s Affairs agency and Mason is now working with their civil rights office to ensure that the terms of the MOU are implemented.
Compliance at the National Training Program
This year, Mason added a third component to her role as compliance officer. She will also educate women on compliance during the organization’s annual National Training Program (NTP) in July.
Each year, the organization chooses a focus area for its premier networking and training event. This year’s focus is compliance, so many of the available courses will center on the topic. For instance, attendees can participate in an “Equal Employment Opportunity Laws Refresher” and attend a course on the “Reasonable Accommodation and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.”
Mason stressed the importance of these courses. “Knowing their rights gives women a voice of empowerment,” she said. “If a person comes into federal service with an awareness about what their rights are, and with an understanding of those ideas the government is built on—that you should be able to work without being harassed or prohibited due to gender, race, color, or other prohibited factors that are covered by the law—that makes for a far more powerful working experience.”
To further facilitate that sense of empowerment, Mason will host a Compliance Luncheon at NTP comprising two keynote presentations. “First, we’re very excited that one of our members recently completed her PhD, and her dissertation was around women and what motivates women to take on leadership roles in the federal government,” Mason said. Dr. Kenae Black, who currently works at HUD, will present her findings to the audience.
Second, Mason will host Cheryl Wood, an author and motivational speaker, who will discuss how women can motivate themselves to excel.
“That compliance luncheon is really going to pull everything together,” said Mason. “We will share our research and then we will also have the motivation to go along with that. I think that’s a great approach, and it’s a great way to end our week of training.”
Ultimately, Mason and her team at FEW want to make sure that women attending the NTP are offered a sense of support and empowerment. “This is why FEW is so important,” she concluded. “It empowers women to speak up for themselves and to advocate for themselves, and the best way to do that is to share what the rights are as a federal employee.”