Challenges and Opportunities for Women to Advance in the Federal Civil Service: Veterans' Preference and Promotions

Article excerpt

This study deals with the effects of veterans' preference on women careers in the federal civil service between 1975 and 1995. This analysis applies time series regression and logistic regression to employment, promotion, age, and salary data)Or males and females, both veterans and nonveterans. Contrary to claims that veterans, a predominantly male group, are privileged throughout their careers, these data reveal diminishing effects of the preference and disadvantages to veterans. Thus, one can expect little change in federal women's status if veterans' preference is eliminated.


The Veterans' Preference Act of 1944, the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Acts of 1972 and 1974, and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 give veterans preference in employment. These policies were intended to eliminate discrimination against those who served in the military and to ease veterans' transitions into the civilian workforce.

Preference for veterans, mostly men, may limit women's employment opportunities. Social equity benefits for veterans may cost social equity for women. This paper measures these policy impacts in the federal workforce between 1975 and 1995. At this point, one might expect the impact of the policies to differ from the policy makers' original expectations. The political and social context for these policies changed with elimination of the draft, reductions in military personnel, "rightsizing" the federal civil service, the emphasis on equal employment opportunity (EEO), the Women's Rights Movements, and increasing numbers of women entering the workforce.

Background. In private sector organizations there is a glass ceiling, an invisible barrier based on attitudinal or organizational bias, which prevents qualified individuals from advancing into managerial positions (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991). Among the impediments are recruitment practices that do not meet affirmative action and EEO requirements, the lack of developmental assignments that enhance qualifications (for example, job rotations and advanced education), and the failure to hold top-level decision makers accountable for EEO compliance (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991).

Guy (1994), Hale and Kelly (1993), and Newman (1993) developed similar theories to explain women's inability to advance to executive levels in state government. Naff (1994), Lewis (1992, 1994, 1997, 1998), Lewis and Nice (1994), and Rusaw (1996) extended these earlier analyses to the federal bureaucracy and found similar barriers between women and equitable treatment.

First, women's choices may be influenced by individual factors such as the gender roles that children learn, family background, motivations, and family obligations. They may learn that the primary role of a woman is to be a wife and mother. Women may feel discouraged when they consider higher education or training important to a career. Also, there are organizational barriers. The jobs women tend to hold are less likely to lead to promotions. For example, women are more likely to work in staff positions than line positions, and women are more likely to work in social work, nursing, and primary or secondary education (Guy, 1994). Lewis (1992), Lewis (1994), Lewis and Nice (1994), Lewis (1997), and Lewis (1998) emphasize occupational sex segregation and barriers to equal pay. Lewis' work supplements other explanations of women's difficulties. Finally, veterans' preference is an organizational barrier that affects the distribution of opportunities and power.

This study examines data describing the population of federal employees and focuses on veterans' preference and status. Individual factors and other organizational barriers are considered alternative explanations of women's difficulties in advancing through the federal civil service.

Military service and veterans' preference. Card (1983) analyzed the impact of military service on the lives of men who were in the ninth grade in 1960. …