Women seen slighted in federal jobs

December 09, 1992|By Carol Emert | Carol Emert,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Women who work for the federal government receive better performance reviews and are more committed to their jobs than men, but are less likely to be promoted, a new study concludes.

The study suggests there is good reason for the feeling many female government workers have that they are butting their heads against a "glass ceiling" -- subtle attitudes and interactions at the office that prevent them from getting ahead.

"These barriers take the form of subtle assumptions, attitudes and stereotypes which affect how managers sometimes view women's potential for advancement and, in some cases, their effectiveness on the job," says the study report by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.

The board says "the government is paying a cost for hindering women's advancement. It is underutilizing a major segment of its human resources and delaying attainment of an important goal . . . full representation of all segments of society at all grade levels in government."

The report's conclusions resulted from a survey of 13,000 white-collar government workers, interviews with focus groups and federal personnel data.

Data from 1990 showed that 48 percent of white-collar federal workers are women, but only 25 percent of supervisors and 1 in 10 executives are female. (Eighty-six percent of federal clerical workers are women.)

These figures run counter to performance reviews, in which women averaged 4.3 on a 5-point scale and men averaged 3.99, according to data from the Office of Personnel Management contained in the study.

White-collar women also received 40 percent more "outstanding" ratings than men, and female managers received one-third more top ratings than male managers, the study found.

The glass ceiling is not distributed uniformly throughout the executive branch, the report says.

In the highest-compensated employment "grades" -- GS-13 through GS-15 -- women and men are promoted at equal rates. But women tend to fall behind at the critical GS-9 and GS-11 levels, which constitute one-third of the federal work force.

Some 44 percent of men and 33 percent of women at the GS-9 level are promoted each year, according to 1988-1990 data. At the GS-11 level, 21 percent of men and 15 percent of women are promoted annually, the report says. This adds up to an overall 33 percent higher rate of advancement for men.

Women are clearly hampered by overall lower levels of formal education and shorter tenures in the civil service than their male counterparts, the report says. But it is "clear that differences in educational attainment and length of service do not account for all of the difference of the distribution of men and women in the government," the report says.

Identifying those reasons is tricky because, by definition, a glass ceiling "is invisible and therefore difficult to establish," the report says. But one reason cited by many women was that females are subjected to a higher standard of performance.

One female executive in a focus group meeting said: "I still think that women have to prove through their dealing with people that they are competent and reliable. With men, I think, it is assumed [that they are competent] and they have to prove they are not."

To help bring down the glass ceiling, the report recommends that:

* The government should make special efforts to increase the number of women in senior-level positions.

* Managers should evaluate the criteria they use to evaluate employees to discover if they are basing decisions on stereotypical assumptions.

* Managers should "seek to curtail, within themselves and their organizations, any expressions of stereotypes or attitudes which may create an environment hostile to the advancement of women."

* Women should make full use advantage of training and educational programs.

* Agencies should evaluate possible barriers to women's advancement.

Lynn Eppard, the legislative director of the advocacy group Federally Employed Women, agrees that attempting to change managers' attitudes is a worthy goal.

But it is also necessary to enact affirmative laws and policies, such as target levels for women in upper-level positions, she says.

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