“Did Serco’s Small Business SWAT teams break through SES Marcy’s 9/11?”

Source: Government Executive

Breaking Through

By Kellie Lunney August 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Women have come a long way in the top ranks, but the SES still is mostly male.

Car owners know a tiny chip in their windshield will expand into a deadly spider web of cracks sooner or later. Those cracks, however small, eventually will shatter the glass.

The same is not always true of the metaphorical glass ceiling, and if it does break, it usually takes a lot longer. That’s been the case with the snail-like increase in women serving in senior-level jobs in the federal government during the past decade. According to the Office of Personnel Management, women made up 31.3 percent of the Senior Executive Service in fiscal 2010, up 0.7 percent from fiscal 2009. Statistically, that change is pretty meaningless, especially when one considers that nearly 70 percent of the SES is male. By contrast, women dominate entry-level jobs in government: In fiscal 2010, women made up 66 percent of all employees in General Schedule and related grades 1 through 4, and 61.2 percent of all workers in grades 5 through 8.

Still, the number of women within government’s highest ranks continues to inch up year after year. Women made big gains in the SES in the decade between 1992 and 2002-jumping from 12.3 percent to 25.4 percent. Since then the increase has been incremental. “It’s going up, but in our view, is still woefully short of where it should be,” says Janet Kopenhaver, Washington representative for the advocacy group Federally Employed Women. Part of the issue is the turnover rate in the SES isn’t high once career executives reach that pinnacle. “The SES is slow to change,” says an OPM spokesperson.

A larger problem, Kopenhaver and others say, is the lack of training and mentoring programs for women at all levels of the workforce. She says the absence of official mentoring in some agencies is connected to the decline of the Federal Women’s Program, which was created in the 1960s to boost career development opportunities for women in the federal government and incorporated into the 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act. OPM and FEW are working together on new guidance for agencies to revive the program, Kopenhaver says. The program might be on life support at many agencies, but during the past few years, Congress and the executive branch have emphasized diversity, particularly among the highest tier of employees. OPM works with agencies to design Candidate Development Programs that can help them identify and prepare senior executives. A provision in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act called for the creation of an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion at agencies such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Housing Finance Agency, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. A few years ago, Congress passed legislation requiring OPM to open an office that would promote diversity in the SES.

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