Women in the Federal Workforce: From FEW to Fewer

If a federal hiring trend continues, one organization might want to consider changing its name.

FEW is the acronym for Federally Employed Women. “Even Fewer” might be a more descriptive handle because of the falling percentage of women joining Uncle Sam’s ranks in recent years.

From 2000 to 2012, the percentage of female hires dropped six percentage points, from 43 percent to 37 percent, according to a Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) report.

“The decreasing numbers of women being hired are surely going to impact diversity at the higher levels of the government, as they will not be entering the ‘feeder’ pools,” said Janet Kopenhaver, FEW’s Washington representative. “Failure to hire women starting out in their careers will result in a serious dearth of female applicants in the future for SES [Senior Executive Service] positions.”

The SES is the top level of the federal civil service. Women account for only about 30 percent of its ranks. About 44 percent of the federal workforce is female.

One factor in female hiring is the Obama administration’s push to hire veterans.

“Our research shows that as use of veterans hiring authorities increased, the percentage of female new hires decreased,” said the MSPB, noting that the active-duty military is more than 80 percent male.

Overreliance on too few hiring mechanisms, such as those that give preference to veterans, “may not be healthy for an organization’s culture, as those authorities may not result in a workforce that is representative of society,” the MSPB said. “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.”

In certain occupations, including information technology, engineering and policing, men were 80 percent or more of new hires.

“This certainly is an ominous trend,” Kopenhaver said, “and is further proof that women still are not breaking into those non-traditional female jobs like IT technology.”

By Joe Davidson Columnist September 28 at 9:46 PM
The Washington Post