Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

An Analysis of Gender Equity in the Federal Labor Relations Career Field

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

An Analysis of Gender Equity in the Federal Labor Relations Career Field

Article excerpt

When the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission was commissioned in 1991, its charter was to assess the barriers hindering "the advancement of women and minorities to management and decision-making positions," and to make recommendations toward the dismantling of such barriers. (1)

This paper assesses the progress made toward gender equity in one area of the federal government over the past decade. Specifically, this paper looks at the federal government's labor relations career field, and analyzes the changes in gender composition of the career field as a whole, especially the gender changes in its managerial ranks. (2)

Review of Literature

Workplace discrimination based on gender has long been a significant issue, and was addressed in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and in Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964. (3) But by the mid-1980s, it was apparent that despite social, demographic, and legal changes, there remained patterns of discrimination in the workforce, especially as related to upward mobility for women. (4) Hymowitz and Schellhardt used the term "glass ceiling" to describe this discrimination in 1986:

Even those few women who rose steadily through the ranks eventually crashed into an invisible barrier. The executive suite seemed within their grasp, but they just couldn't break through the glass ceiling. (5)

Research on this "glass ceiling" demonstrated that it is rarely overt. (6) Further, specific features of the barriers change from organization to organization, and from level to level within a given organization (i.e., glass ceiling barriers to entry- and mid-level management can be different than the barriers to more senior leadership positions). As a result, women need to adopt multiple strategies to achieve success at different levels of the organization. (7)

A major aspect of gender discrimination is pay. Many studies cite data describing gender-based pay differentials, (8) and others use statistics similar to those of the U.S. Department of Labor, in which women's hourly earnings in 1999 were only 76.5 percent of men's. (9) Some authors, however, doubt the validity of a gender-based differential in compensation: some suggest little or no gap exists when pay is adjusted for years of employment, hours worked, education level, and other factors. (10) Others contend that glass ceilings will be destroyed in the course of business necessity: in high-tech industries, for example, strong competition for a limited technical talent pool tends to equalize opportunity and reduce pay inequity. (11)

To contend with the glass ceiling, women adopt techniques to counter glass ceiling effects. Some of these strategies include the pursuit of difficult assignments, enhanced use of mentoring, and acceptance of the need to outperform male counterparts. (12) Faced with the need to make these adaptations, many women have chosen to leave corporate bureaucracies in favor of entrepreneurial ventures and part-time work. (13)

Gender equity issues affect all sectors of the economy, including government. From 1950 to 1990, the proportional representation of women in government and not-for-profit sectors rose dramatically. (14) While high profile female government appointees like the Clinton administration's Madeleine Albright and Janet Reno were visible symbols of women's progress, glass ceiling issues are no less prevalent in government than in business. The field of labor relations, the subject of this paper, is similarly affected.

The Federal Workforce

The federal civilian workforce of the 1990s reflected national trends, in that government career fields have historically displayed disproportionately high numbers of women in lower ranks, and disproportionately lower numbers of women at more senior levels. For example, in 1990, the year before the establishment of the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, only 6.2 percent of federally employed women were at or above the level of upper-middle management (GS-13 and above); men, however, were four times more likely to reach those levels, with nearly 28 percent of all federally-employed males located in the GS-13 and above category. …

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