Women make up only 29.3% of federal government’s employees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) roles, according to a new report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that digs into gender using 2019 data.
That’s slightly ahead of women’s 27% share of overall civilian STEM employment, according to recent Census data.
“Clearly, the federal government shares the same challenges as the private sector in improving representation of women in STEM occupations,” said Carlton Hadden, director at the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations, in a statement. “There were significantly fewer women in technology and engineering than we expected.”
Maria Roat, who recently retired from her post as deputy federal CIO, told FCW that although the problem is well known, it doesn’t currently get enough attention, and more importantly, action and accountability on progress being made.
“This is where I think the government needs to take the next step — enterprisewide across the federal government — in how they do recruitment and retention starting at the lower grades,” she said. “There are multiple STEM, cybersecurity and other workforce initiatives in various states of planning or execution being driven by multiple entities. A more holistic plan would gain better traction, especially if combined with a FITARA-like scorecard that holds the federal government at large and agencies accountable.”
STEM fields have been predominantly male for decades, although the participation of women in these occupations has been growing.
Leadership is still overwhelmingly male, with men comprising 74.1% of leadership roles. That gap turns up both in terms of senior managers and executives as well as frontline program managers and team leaders.
The report also breaks down the federal STEM workforce by race and ethnicity.
Most STEM government workers are white – 66%. Black; Asian; Hispanic and Latina; Alaska Native and American Indian; and Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women make up about 14.6%, 9.8%, 6.4%, 1% and 0.3%, of the federal government’s STEM workforce, respectively.
The report also found that there’s an average pay difference of around $4,300 a year in terms of gender.
On average, women are paid less than men in science, engineering and math, but more in tech jobs, which the EEOC chalks up to the fact that there are fewer women in tech jobs, but they occupy higher grade levels, the report states.
Research referenced in the EEOC report shows that the gender gap in STEM starts as early as high school and sticks around in higher education.
Racial and ethnic disparities that extend beyond the STEM field also start early in the education pipeline.
Once women get to the workforce, they face bias, harassment and a limited pool of women to draw on as mentors and role models.
Kelly Fletcher, principal deputy CIO at the Department of Defense, said during a Thursday panel by GovernmentCIO Media that she experiences bias often as a CIO that is a relatively young woman.
While she was the CIO for the Navy, a man told her once after a panel that she didn’t “look like the Department of Navy CIO,” she said. “I’m encountering that all the time.”
The Biden administration has set diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the government’s workforce as a priority already, rolling back policies from the Trump administration that banned diversity training for feds and contractors.
Some agencies also have their own goals. Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, wants to close the gender gap in the cybersecurity field by 2030.
Angie Bailey, who was the chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security, told FCW that she isn’t surprised by the EEOC’s statistics.
The “key,” she said, will be “building these programs in the early stages of a child’s education, in particular girls. There still remains pre-determined societal norms or destinies for many, including minorities and women.”
Former federal CIO Suzette Kent told FCW that coming from the overwhelmingly male financial sector, she was “thrilled to have women holding a third of the 33 leadership roles on the CIO council.” At the same time, she is looking forward to gender parity in tech employment.
Closing the gender gap isn’t just about equity. EEOC called it “imperative” for the government to be able to address problems like terrorism, pandemics and climate change with representation from the entire population.
“Part of countering new threats and keeping all of our friends and family safe is not thinking about things the way we always have and that is where I think diversity comes in,” Cynthia Kaiser, section chief in the FBI’s cyber division, said during the panel. “Diversity isn’t just assimilation of people who look different, it’s actually welcoming new ideas.”