Washington Post

Women Make Gains In Parity

Downsizing Favors Gender Equity Goals

By Stephen Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 21, 1999; Page A19

Federal women are starting to break through the legendary "glass ceiling" that has slowed or thwarted their advancement in government careers, new data collected by the Office of Personnel Management suggests.

Preliminary fiscal 1998 figures, the latest available, show that women held nearly half the jobs in the top white-collar and senior pay grades (General Schedule 9 and above). Women held 31 percent of the supervisor and manager positions and accounted for 22.4 percent of senior federal executives, according to the preliminary tally by OPM.

In 1998, women accounted for 48 percent of the government's new hires and won 52 percent of the job promotions. In the top ranks, women received almost 38 percent of the promotions in white-collar and senior pay jobs, the OPM data showed.

Overall, the figures indicate that federal women are making greater progress than was thought possible. In 1992, a survey by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board found relatively few women in government's top ranks and predicted it could take 20 years for them to achieve parity in the workplace.

Even though women seem to be making significant progress, the data, in part, reaffirms views that parity still will take some time. About 40 percent of women are employed in the mid-level grades (General Schedule 5 through 8), the OPM data showed. Women continue to hold the bulk of jobs classified as secretary, nurse and miscellaneous clerk.

Much of the data appears in a new OPM report, "Women in the Federal Government: A Statistical Profile," scheduled for release today in Phoenix, when OPM Director Janice R. Lachance addresses Federally Employed Women, an organization of current and retired federal workers.

"The report shows that while the glass ceiling hasn't completely shattered, women are lifting it to new heights. I am confident that this will continue," she said in remarks prepared for the program.

Personnel experts in and out of the government cautioned that further studies will be needed to determine the extent of the overall progress by women.

They pointed to the "downsizing" of the government, for example, which began in 1993 and led to a reduction of 371,747 federal jobs. Much of that reduction was accomplished by offering employees cash "buyouts" of up to $25,000 for voluntary resignations. Most of the employees taking buyouts were older white men who were eligible for retirement, and their departure may have increased the proportion of women left in higher grade levels, the experts said.

Personnel specialists also noted that the Clinton administration has pursued diversity goals for the last six years and ensured that women received a fair share of promotions.

OPM officials attributed some of the change to new hiring practices by the government made possible by electronic information networks created in recent years. OPM's databank, USAJOBS, allows job seekers to use the Internet and telephone to search for federal positions, for example.

The data in OPM's statistical snapshot also show that:

714,693 women work full time for the government. Women comprise 42.9 percent of the federal work force and 46.3 percent of the private-sector work force.

Civil service women in the Washington area earn an average of $50,264. Male workers in the area earn an average of $64,566.

A third of federal women have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with 46 percent for men in the government.

About half of federal women work at five agencies: Army, Air Force, Navy, Treasury and Veterans Affairs.

The average age of federal women is 44.7 years, and 30 percent are 50 or older.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company