Diversity and Affirmative Action in Public Service

By Walter D. Broadnax | Go to book overview

Women are falling behind white men at a rate of one-tenth of a grade or more per year during the early career. Research reported elsewhere finds male-female promotion chances to be quite similar over the bulk of the career ( Lewis, 1984), with women probably having the advantage in the middle and late career, so the problem may be limited. Still, early advancement has a longer-lasting impact on salaries than does later advancement, and the salary gains lost early are lost forever.

What can be done to eliminate this differential? A variety of EEO and affirmative action efforts could be considered. Perhaps more training of first-line supervisors is necessary to sensitize them to sexism or racism in their promotion decisions. One unconscious way this may show itself is in a fear that women are more likely than men to quit their jobs, leading them to see early promotions of women as riskier. Later in the career, women who prove their employment stability may be catching up to the levels they should have obtained earlier. If this is indeed happening, this research finds little support for the supervisors' fears, as the women's quit rates are only marginally higher than the men's.

Institutional factors may also create barriers to women's advancement. First, two-grade promotions are generally limited to professional and administrative occupations, where men predominate. Perhaps this policy should be reconsidered. Second, Chertos ( 1985) finds that promotions in New York state government frequently involve geographical moves, and married women are often unable to re-locate. This pattern probably holds true in the General Schedule as well. She suggests that more effort be made to promote women without requiring them to move. Third, career paths out of clerical positions may be quite limited. This suggests the need for more upward mobility programs or "bridging" occupations, which allow employees to obtain the training and experience necessary to move out of dead-end jobs into professional or administrative occupations. On the other hand, we may also need further research into the possibility that women are consciously choosing to forego advancement opportunities. Hoffman and Reed ( 1981) report that in one large corporation they studied, women were as likely to be offered promotions as men, but were far more likely to turn them down, largely for family reasons. This seems an improbable explanation in the General Schedule but might be occurring on a limited basis.

In sum, entry levels and early advancement rates demonstrate greater race- and sex-neutrality than many would expect. While this suggests that equal employment opportunity is within our grasp, it also implies that a representative bureaucracy cannot be achieved without substantial affirmative action efforts.


Notes

I would like to thank Frank Thompson, Glen Cain, Roy Bahl, Larry Schroeder and David Rosenbloom for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. I am grateful to the U. S. Office of Personnel Management for providing access to statistical data from the Central Personnel Data File (CPDF) for the analysis presented in this paper. The original version of this research appeared in Lewis ( 1984).

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