While women represent the majority of federal employees working in medical, public health, accounting and personnel management fields, they still remain relatively scarce in information technology and other science and math fields, according to a new report.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Women’s Work Group report, released last week, found that women hold just 31 percent of information technology positions in the federal government. Just 28 percent of federal workers in physical science positions and 15 percent in engineering and architecture positions are women. EEOC cited similar patterns in the private sector.
An internal EEOC work group put together the report based on in-depth research and several roundtable discussions with key stakeholders, including federal EEO directors, academic experts and advocacy and affinity groups.
Because most federal science, technology, engineering and math fields require a STEM-specific degree as a condition for an employee being hired, the gender disparities in federal sector employment are in part a result of women earning substantially fewer degrees in the rapidly growing and higher-paying STEM fields, EEOC found. From 2001 to 2010, women received just 18.2 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences, 18.4 percent in engineering and 43.1 percent in mathematics and statistics, according to data from the National Science Foundation.
“The lower percentage of women receiving STEM degrees results in substantially fewer women than men available in the applicant pool to recruit to federal STEM positions, which presents a formidable challenge to efforts to increase women’s representation in federal STEM occupations,” the EEOC report states.
Yet even for women who hold STEM-related degrees, many still encounter challenges in being hired, promoted and supported than their male counterparts. The lower percentage of women with STEM-related degrees makes it more difficult for agencies to recruit qualified women to STEM positions, and for those who are employed, many experience isolation, a lack of support and mentorship, and hostility, EEOC found.
The report also identified other challenges for women in all federal positions, including a persistent wage gap compared to their male counterparts, a less-than-equal playing field when it comes to promotions and inflexible workplace policies that create challenges for women with caregiver obligations.
For STEM careers specifically, EEOC recommended that agencies boost scholarship programs and partnerships with universities to stimulate interest in STEM, provide STEM employees with committed mentors and launch intern programs that encourage female students to apply. Establishing interagency networks that foster professional associations among women in STEM fields and hosting seminars and conferences that enable female STEM workers to network and dialogue with each other also were considered potential solutions.
“Agency officials should champion equal opportunities for women in the federal workforce,” the report states. “The ultimate responsibility rests with agencies to take seriously the obstacles and issues identified by our dialogue partners, and to make it a priority to adopt the dialogue partners’ recommendations.”