Women of color are underrepresented in federal workforce leadership, EEOC says

“Significant” pay gaps and underrepresentation in leadership still plague federal workforce positions, particularly for American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) women, African American women and Hispanic women and Latinas, according to a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report released Nov. 8.

While both AIAN women and African American women have double the participation rate in the federal workforce compared to the civilian labor force, both earned considerably less than their counterparts. AIAN women, for example, earned a median annual salary of $56,432, which is $22,800 less than all women federal employees.

Hispanic women and Latinas, meanwhile, had lower participation rates in the federal workforce compared to the civilian force, but resigned at a rate “almost twice the average for all employees government-wide,” according to EEOC.

AIAN women were the only group that had proportional representation among managers and supervisors, but only accounted for 0.4% of executives, which is disproportionate to their presence in the force, EEOC said.

Hispanic women and Latinas held first-line supervisory positions at a higher rate than their participation, but they were underrepresented comparatively as managers and executives, EEOC said. African American women were underrepresented across the board; while they accounted for 11.7% of the federal workforce, they only accounted for 10.4% of supervisors, 9.6% of managers and 7.3% of executives.

“The barriers faced by different groups of women are sometimes hidden in larger data,” Dexter Brooks, associate director of the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations, said in a statement. “We hope these reports provide federal agencies and those working to implement Executive Order 14035 with information that can be leveraged to address the significant pay gaps and separation issues identified in these reports.”

Other studies have showcased the “broken rung” that keeps marginalized women out of the upper echelons; McKinsey’s 2023 Women in the Workplace report also noted that women of color remain underrepresented in leadership. Women tend to face their biggest hurdle in that first step up to manager, the report said.

Other experts have spoken at length about how many women feel they need to erase their identity in order to fit into leadership. The pandemic in particular highlighted how child rearing and child care difficulties disproportionately affected women’s workweeks.

To ameliorate this, employers can offer child care benefits of varying types, including back-up care, as well as schedule flexibility and paid sick days, one study showed.