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Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women? (1992)

Chapter: 8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government

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Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
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8
PROMOTING CAREERS IN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

by Linda Skidmore Dix

Linda Skidmore Dix is the study director for the National Research Council's Committee on Women in Science and Engineering. Prior to her appointment to this position, size served as staff officer for a variety of studies undertaken under the auspices of the National Research Council's Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel. Among those studies relevant to her current activities are Engineering Labor-Market Adjustments and Education and Employment of Engineers.

As staff officer for the initial phase of the Research Council's study of scientists and engineers employed by federal agencies, she co-edited with study chair, Alan K. Campbell, the report Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers (1990), from which much of the following information is drawn.

Introduction

Approximately 202,300 social scientists, computer specialists, biological scientists, agricultural scientists, engineers, physical scientists, and mathematical and computer scientists are employed by the federal government in a variety of work-activity classifications, including research, data collection, management, and testing and evaluation. The major employers of federal scientists and engineers are the Department of Defense, Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Department of Energy, Department of the Interior, Department of Transportation, and Department of Health and Human Services. Yet, despite the opportunities and variety of employment offered by federal agencies, some people feel that a host of factors negatively affect the agencies' ability to recruit and retain the most capable scientists and engineers (Dix, 1990). Some of those problems can be addressed in various ways (see Table 8-1). However,

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
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TABLE 8-1: Factors Affecting Recruitment and Retention of Scientists and Engineers by Federal Agencies and Possible Solutions to These Problems

Problem Areas

Possible Solutions

◆ Negative perceptions of government employment

Emphasis on "psychic income" such as laboratory's employment reputation, challenging work, unique facilities and equipment; emphasis on educational opportunities available to government employees

◆ Compensation

Non-salary compensation: pay banding,* recruitment bonuses, relocation bonuses, occupation-specific pay scales

◆ Time required to extend offer of employment

Direct-hire authority, simplified hiring procedures, and increased personnel authority for line managers

◆ Difficulty of promotion after reaching GS-12 level

Pay banding

◆ Restricted role of line managers in salary decisions

Flexibility in increasing salary without promoting, increasing personnel authority for line managers, and occupation-specific schedules

◆ Excessive paper work

Direct-hire authority, computer-assisted Classifications, and more generic classifications

◆ Questionable tie between pay and performance

Performance appraisals and multiple components of pay increase that are not mutually exclusive, bonuses, and awards

◆ Personnel ceilings and reductions-in-force (RIFs)

Using adjunct personnel, such as postdocs, flexibility in taking into consideration things other than seniority, simplified classification systems that enable the labs to retrain RIFed staff

* Bands of salary, as opposed to the Civil Service's grades, give wider latitude to managers determining salaries for either entry-level or experienced employees.

SOURCE: Sheldon B. Clark, Differences in recruitment, retention, and utilization processes: A comparison of traditionally operated federal laboratories, M&O facilities, and demonstration projects, in Alan K. Campbell and Linda S. Dix (eds.), Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers, Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1990.

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×

Efforts to manage the federal work force today must operate in an environment that is significantly different from 20 years ago.... Shifting demographics, the rapidly changing international climate, and the declining image of federal employment all argue for some fundamental shifts in the way federal personnel management is carried out. This may be especially true as the government struggles to recruit, motivate, and retain a large cadre of well-qualified engineers and scientists (Palguta, 1990).

Compounding the effects of negative perceptions of federal employment is the fact that women and minorities have not been prime targets of past recruitment efforts, although their increasing numbers in the U.S. talent pool generally make them a viable source of our future technical work force. While employment of women and minorities by federal agencies almost doubled during the 1977–1987 period, only 10 percent of the S&E Ph.D.s employed by the federal government in 1987 were women (White House, 1989). Across all degree levels, the employment of women scientists and engineers by the federal government varies by discipline, from a low of 3.0 percent in agronomy to 50.5 percent in sociology. But, in general, the rate of employment of women scientists and engineers is much lower than that of men (Figure 8-1; CWSE, 1991). However, OPM data indicate larger percentages of women in trainee positions in some occupations—engineering (25 percent), physical science (34 percent), and mathematics and statistics (46 percent)—and increased percentages of women hired in these occupations by federal agencies during the past three fiscal years (Gowing, 1991).

Initiatives of the Office of Personnel Management

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), established as the successor of the U.S. Civil Service Commission with the passage of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, has undertaken several initiatives to assist in the successful recruitment of individuals to federal agencies.1 Some of those efforts are described below.

1  

Much information for this section was provided by Marilyn K. Gowing, op. Cit.

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×

SOURCE: U.S. General Accounting Office,  Federal Affirmative Employment: Status of Women and Minority Representation in the Federal Workforce  (GAO/T-GGD-92-2), Washington, DC: GAO, 1992.

Figure 8-1. Distribution of work force in key jobs for 25 executive agencies, by grade, as of September 30, 1990.

Federal Career Fairs

In March 1990 OPM organized job fairs in Washington, DC; Boston; Chicago; Denver; and San Francisco. Their purpose was to alert the public to the kinds of jobs available in the federal government and to enable federal agencies to publicize the type of work that they perform. As a result of this series of 2-day activities, approximately 87,000 individuals applied for federal positions. Since March of 1990, there have been four Federal Career Fairs for scientists and engineers. The dates and pertinent information regarding each are listed in Table 8-2.

Career America

Developed by OPM's Office of Affirmative Recruiting and Employment, a series of professionally designed brochures describes employment opportunities within federal agencies. In addition, a series of

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×

TABLE 8-2: Federal Career Fairs, 1990–1991

Date

Number of Participating Agencies

Number of Attendees

Number Selected

June 22–23, 1990

63

20,000

888

January 28–29, 1991

66

25,000

812

July 26–27, 1991

56

18,000

670

December 4–5, 1991

68

15,000

249

 

SOURCE: Marilyn Gowing, Promoting Careers in Federal Government, paper presented at the National Research Council conference, ''Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?," Irvine, CA, November 4–5, 1991.

videotapes has been created to "enhance the image of Federal service with the 'MTV [Music Television] generation' " (Gowing, 1991).

Career Hotline

Because many students do not know where they might apply and how to find a federal job, in September 1989 OPM set up a college hotline. By calling 1-912-757-3000 and answering a series of questions about one's specialties, degrees, and college(s) attended, a person learns how to apply for a job and is sent the appropriate federal forms for applying. A pre-recorded voice explains the process and the basics of the system.

Automated Applicant Referral System (AARS)

For some shortage occupations, OPM has replaced the SF-171 with an automated form processed within 24 hours at its Macon, Georgia, facility. The rest is left up to the individual agencies. For example, if an agency wants to recruit an engineer, it uses a specific code to hook into this automated system; after specifying the series, grade, and specialty wanted, within 13 minutes the agency will receive a referral of candidates who qualify for that job.

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×
Recruiter Training

OPM has developed a 2-day course, "Recruiter's Interviewing Techniques," to begin in the fall of 1992. When the training becomes available, it will be announced through the Regional Training Centers and the Office of Personnel Management Training Guide. In addition, all Personnel Directors will be contacted and informed of the program.

Federal Occupational Career Information System (FOCIS)

An automated career information system, FOCIS can be used by individuals to assess their skills and interests and then, based on their college majors and scores on the skills assessment, to determine the federal occupations for which they are qualified. In addition, FOCIS contains a listing of federal job openings and the addresses of 1,500 federal personnel offices.

Flexible Benefits

Policies enacted to retain all federal workers tend to benefit federally employed scientists and engineers, both men and women: these include a generous leave program (including leave for parental and family responsibilities), comprehensive health benefits, flexible and compressed work schedules, part-time employment and job sharing, employee assistance programs, dependent care referral programs, and child care centers (OPM, 1988).

In addition to initiatives aimed at recruitment and retention of federal workers in general, other programs implemented by OPM to enhance recruitment and retention of scientists and engineers by federal agencies include flexible examining procedures, direct-hire authority, and special salary rates.2

2  

OPM, the central management agency within the federal government, has a broad mandate "to exercise leadership in Federal personnel administration... to concentrate its efforts on planning and administering an effective Government-wide program of personnel management... to see that agencies are performing properly under civil service laws, regulations, and delegated authorities ... OPM will have the opportunity for innovative planning for the future needs of the Federal work force, executive and employee development, and pilot projects to test the efficacy of various administration practices" ("Legislative History of the Civil Service Reform Act

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×
Flexible Examining Procedures

The Civil Service Reform Act authorized OPM to delegate examining authority to individual federal agencies. According to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), "OPM is delegating examining and hiring authorities to agencies at an accelerated rate and for a wider range of positions than previously.... 534 delegated examinations are in effect" (MSPB, 1989a).

Direct-Hire Authority3

If individuals are qualified and agencies are satisfied with their qualifications, OPM has authorized agencies to hire those individuals directly. As a result of decentralization, 95 percent of scientists and engineers (essentially, all of the engineers, "hard" scientists, medical specialists, mathematicians, and computer scientists in the federal government) are employed through direct-hire authority—that is, the agencies find potential employees and hire them on the spot in order not to find themselves in the situation whereby desired individuals have taken employment elsewhere.4 More widely implemented by OPM since July 1989, these changes appear to offer increased opportunities to hire entry-level candidates and may afford agencies a more competitive position in the college recruitment arena.

Special Salary Rates

In addition, OPM has instituted special salaries for scientists and

   

of 1978," House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, Committee Print No. 96-2, 96th Congress, 1st session (1979), p. 1470).

   

3 According to OPM, "direct hire is based on the assumption that the limited supply of applicants and high demand for them assures that all qualified applicants will receive equivalent consideration with or without normal procedures. As an added refinement, direct hire is authorized only for applicants with numerical ratings above a predetermined score (PDS) when there are adequate numbers of basically qualified candidates but few well qualified ones" (Federal Staffing Digest, vol. 2, no. 2, Winter 1990, p. 5).

   

4 Agencies must rate and rank candidates if more than three apply.

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×

engineers in some shortage occupations. Special rates can be granted based on occupation, grade, and geographic location.5

Training and Development

Besides interventions targeted to scientists and engineers in general, several OPM-sponsored, government-wide leadership programs provide for development of women scientists and engineers:

  • Women's Executive Leadership Program: This program is designed to provide both formal and informal training as preparation for future opportunities in federal management. Of the women high-potential nonsupervisory employees participating each year since this program began in 1984, about 15 percent are scientists and engineers.

  • Executive Potential Program: Over 50 percent of the enrollees in this program designed for scientific and technical specialists moving into management are women.

  • Legis Fellows Program: Participants in this program receive special assignments in congressional offices and attend congressional briefings and seminars as part of their management training. About one-third of the participants are women, of whom half are scientists and engineers.

Increasingly important to women are "training and development initiatives in the federal government, among the most powerful interventions available in the federal government for retaining highly skilled workers" (Budd, 1991). Numerous studies have documented the increased requirements for scientists and engineers in the federal government, the increasing number of women entering the U.S. work force, and the increased "economic importance of human resource development," according to Budd. OPM has addressed these work force trends through the creation of a set of Human Resources Development Policy Initiatives in three major areas: (1) agency management of human resources development, (2) career development of federal employees, and (3) supervisory, managerial, and executive

5  

A detailed listing of these special rates is found in Table 10, Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers (Alan K. Campbell and Linda S. Dix, eds.), Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1990.

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×

development. Through these initiatives, OPM is directing agencies to develop long-term strategic plans for human resource development and to prioritize training investments to meet true organizational, mission-related needs.

Agency-Specific Initiatives

Speaking to participants at the CWSE-sponsored conference at Irvine in 1991, Marjorie. L. Budd, chief of the policy and curriculum initiatives division in OPM's Office of Employee Development Policy and Programs, emphasized five ''cross-cutting characteristics of successful programs in the federal government":

  1. The programs are part of an organization's strategic business plan, designed specifically by the agency to meet its mission and goals,

  2. Scientific leadership and human resources leadership are involved,

  3. Programs are developed to create career paths and to prepare routes for women and minorities to rise in the organization,

  4. Programs are located in areas of critical need where project work creates a sense of accomplishment, and

  5. Flexibilities are built-in to provide for two-career families and domestic considerations (Budd, 1991).

Each federal organization employing scientists and engineers has a responsibility to pursue initiatives that will enhance its recruitment, retention, and utilization of that work force. Some agencies have undertaken a vigorous recruitment strategy, recognizing that recruitment is a significant part of a manager's responsibility. Some attempt to reach more potential employees by increasing the number and types of college campuses visited, no longer concentrating their efforts at the major research universities but pursuing candidates at other institutions such as the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Another recruitment activity is the Career Day held at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, designed specifically to show promising college seniors the diversity of work performed by Goddard's scientists and engineers. The results were job offers to more than half of the 45 participants, with over 75 percent accepted (OPM, 1989).

While the aggregate data on retention of scientists and engineers are quite promising—showing that, on average, less than 5 percent leave government employment, about half as resignations and about half as

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×

retirements—each agency manager must be concerned within the context of his/her own operation, since turnover varies at the agency level. Some agencies conduct their own research and definition of the problems of turnover by their employees. At least four federal organizations—Naval Research Lab (NRL), Department of Defense (DoD), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the Public Health Service (PHS)—have designed their own data collection systems in order to learn more about their own personnel (Campbell and Dix, 1990).

U.S. Department of Energy

In addition to the many education interventions supported at the precollege and postsecondary levels, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has demonstrated its commitment to the retention of its scientific employees, particularly those who are members of groups that underparticipate in the technical work force. It was stated at the CWSE conference that, "although there had been no programs aimed specifically for women in the Department of Energy, there has been an awareness that women, as well as underrepresented minorities, are an underutilized source for future employment needs in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology" (Verell, 1991).

This awareness led, in 1990, to the first review of programs undertaken by DOE labs to lower the turnover rates of their female scientists and engineers. In the report outline of the DOE program review, it was noted that "to be effective, student education programs designed to encourage young women to enter careers in science and engineering must be accompanied by programs that enhance career development opportunities for those R&D women already pursuing careers in science and engineering. Only by the coupling of these two types of programs will progress be made in the effective and fair utilization of the talents of women in the R&D work force" (DOE, 1990).

The review enabled women scientists and engineers throughout the laboratory system to share their knowledge and experience and to address concerns that permeated many of the labs. The focus was on educational outreach (recruitment) and career advancement of those employed in DOE labs (retention). Participants examined programs implemented at the individual laboratories to help their women employees "who are trying to be successful as scientists" (Bhattacharyya, 1991). During this review it was found that "effective programs for women scientists and engineers employed in DOE laboratories have four major characteristics: they (1) ensure effective

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×

recruitment of qualified female candidates, (2) maintain strong networking and mentoring programs, (3) facilitate movement of women into management and senior scientist positions, and (4) encourage the expression and discussion of areas of concern" (DOE, 1990). As a follow-up to the 1990 review, DOE conducted a second examination of laboratory programs for women employees in February 1992.

To recruit and retain the technical work force necessary to fulfill its mandate, Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), operated by the University of Chicago for DOE, has created a standard ladder of career progression. Scientists and engineers are hired at one of eight grades (703–710). Both initial employment and retention are determined by nine criteria related to one's science and engineering education, experience, job-related skills, and work responsibilities (see Table A-6).

A survey of Argonne's practices in employee hiring, promotion, and employee development was commissioned by the ANL director and completed in 1988. The survey not only asked opinions of its 1300 R&D employees on how the lab was doing, but also developed data on what the lab had done as an objective measure of the lab's policies. Among the survey's findings were the following:

  • Eight percent of ANL's R&D employees are female.

  • Two-thirds of the females are located in 3 of the 23 divisions (biology, chemical technology, and energy and environmental systems).

  • Between 1983 and 1988, 355 permanent R&D staff were hired, including 43 percent of the current female staff.

  • When both males and females were interviewed for a given position (24 out of 150 evaluated positions), about half of those hired were women (Bbattacharyya, 1991).

Based on this survey, areas of action were identified with respect to recruitment, retention, promotion, management positions, committee representation, and the importance of networking for R&D women.

The establishment of a Women in Science Program Initiator at ANL gives formal recognition to the lab's Women in Science Program. Financial backing from the office of the ANL director provides visibility and a means for the women in science to have input into the laboratory program. Many parties were interested in the role of the Women in Science Program Initiator—the Affirmative Action Office, the Division of Educational

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×

Programs (which was dealing with the outreach programs), the Office of the Director (which was providing funding), and the Office of Human Resources (which was interested in recruitment). According to Maryka Bhattacharyya, the first appointee to this position, her office is involved in educational outreach; recruitment, retention, and upward mobility of ANL's R&D women; identification of funding sources for Women in Science initiatives; and communication regarding the ANL Women in Science program. Measures of the significance of the program are the changes that have been instituted within ANL. These include continued development of an outreach program, including an annual "Science Careers in Search of Women" conference; increased sensitivity of managers due to presentations at meetings of division directors, operation managers, and group leaders in the different divisions; assistance on recruitment, such as helping staff locate viable candidates for a managerial position in nuclear engineering; development of programs promoting upward mobility, and identification of potential funding sources for a proposed re-entry program in waste management and environmental engineering.

Other Federal Agencies

Still other federal agencies have implemented programs targeting both students and employees, potential and current (see Appendix A). For instance, the Department of Defense (DoD) supports a wide variety of programs to attract and retain U.S. citizens to careers in the sciences and engineering, beginning at the precollege level. In addition,

DoD makes a significant contribution to education in science and technology fields by programs provided for its own employees, who comprise 3% of the national pool of scientists and engineers (FCCSET, 1991).

Some of these programs are listed in Table 8-3.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has studied the cultural diversity of its work force to address the impact of the changing demography on its ability to accomplish its mission. At present, women comprise about 48 percent of EPA's total work force but only 25 percent of its S&E work force. However, recognizing that the net new entrants to the total U.S. work force will include more women and ethnic/racial minorities during the next decade, EPA is expanding its efforts both to recruit and to

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×

TABLE 8-3: Some Programs to Provide Job-Related Training for Employees of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)

Agency

Program

Air Force

• Full-time training in science and engineering for full-time permanent employees

• Career Intern Program

Army Corps of Engineers

• Waterways Experiment Station Graduate Institute

Defense Intelligence Agency

• Full-time Study Program

Defense Mapping Agency

• Off-site educational opportunities

National Security Agency

• Advanced Studies Program

• After-Hours College Training

• Directed Fellowship/Scholarship Program for full-time permanent employees

• Grow Your Own Program to fill agency shortages in fields such as collection operations and telecommunications

• Computer Operations Associates Program for employees enrolled in computer science, data processing, or computer operations programs at community colleges

Naval Air Development Center

• Part-time Undergraduate Study Award

Naval Ocean Systems Center

• Undergraduate Academic Program

Naval Research Laboratory

• Edison Memorial Training Program (combined work study)

Naval Weapons Center

• Full-time training in science and engineering for full-time permanent employees

 

SOURCE: Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and b Technology (FCCSET), Committee on Education and Human Resources, By the Year 2000: First in the World, Washington, DC: Office of Science and Technology Policy, 1991.

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×

retain members of these traditionally underrepresented groups in S&E positions (Campbell and Dix, 1990). Additional actions are expected in response to the report of an expert panel convened by EPA administrator William K. Reilly, which found that

the development and nurturing of human resources are central to improving science at EPA.... [Yet] EPA provides insufficient incentives to reward the production of high-quality science (EPA, 1992).

Among the recommendations of that panel are the following:

  • EPA should expand the use of career development paths, such as those in place for research scientists. The Agency should establish a separate science career track for individuals in the program offices who have appropriate scientific and technical background and who are regularly involved in providing science advice or reviewing science issues and data for regulatory purposes.

  • The Agency [should] expand opportunities for rotations that allow scientists from other organizations to work in EPA's science programs and EPA scientists to participate in the scientific efforts of other organizations.... A successful rotation should assist an EPA scientist in obtaining promotions and salary increases.

  • EPA should use its reward structure to encourage superior science and science management in the Agency.... In addition, EPA should develop competitive compensation packages allotted on the basis of comparison with the best of one's peers.

Programs such as those recommended above could serve as interventions to recruit and retain both women and men.

Many agencies are drawing upon the various programs available throughout the federal government to increase the retention of their S&E work force. Some of these same agencies have developed their own interventions, such as fellowships and scholarships for advanced training of their employees, leadership workshops and seminars, and a variety of benefit

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×

TABLE 8-4: Percentage of Women at GS-5, 14, and 15 in Selected Scientific Occupations, 1991

 

General Schedule (GS) of Salaries

Occupation

GS 5

GS 14

GS 15

General physical science

47.1

8.4

4.7

Chemistry

50.0

14.1

8.5

Operations research

56.3

10.5

8.1

Statistics

47.4

19.9

15.8

 

SOURCE: Marilyn Gowing, Promoting Careers in Federal Government, paper presented at the National Research Council conference, ''Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?," Irvine, CA, November 4–5, 1991.

packages to meet individual needs (with options, for example, regarding dependent care, continuing education, and insurance coverage).

The Glass Ceiling

In spite of these interventions and the commitment of OPM to "removing all barriers to the advancement of women and minorities once they have entered the federal work force" (Budd, 1991), women scientists and engineers employed by the federal government tend to encounter a glass ceiling, an invisible barrier that has kept them out of top jobs (see Figure 8-1 and Table 8-4). As noted at the CWSE-sponsored interventions conference,

At the lower grades (GS 5, 7, 9, and even 11), we have substantially high numbers of women scientists and engineers. However, ... at the [GS] 14 and 15 levels, the percentage of women drops substantially (Gowing, 1991).

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×

Thus, actions must be taken to reinforce initiatives put into place by both OPM and individual agencies. Conference participants discussed a "glass-cutter" program targeted to federally employed women scientists and engineers and delineated its key elements:

  • involvement of and open communication between all levels of staff,

  • flexibility in job descriptions,

  • delineation of the differences between job description and job performance,

  • mentoring by senior executives as well as identification of the career patterns that those executives undertook to gain their current positions,

  • continuous monitoring and evaluation of the specific intervention, and

  • dissemination of the evaluation results throughout the organization.

Summary

The federal government has begun to be more proactive in its efforts to recruit and retain not only its scientific and engineering work force, but more particularly its employees who are women scientists and engineers. Many of the federal initiatives in this area can be traced to the establishment of the Office of Personnel Management in 1972. However, most have been implemented during the past five years, as attention has been drawn to the changing U.S. demography and its implications for employment policies. Nonetheless, change in the actual percentages of women scientists and engineers employed by federal agencies comes slowly, especially at the higher levels of the General Schedule of Salaries, partly because of the low turnover among members of the existing federal work force (MSPB, 1989b). It is heartening, though, to learn that some federal agencies are setting examples for their counterparts by addressing the situation and creating programs to enhance their recruitment and retention of women scientists and engineers.

Future Directions

The report of the National Research Council's Committee on Scientists and Engineers in the Federal Government (Campbell and Dix, 1990) noted two issues regarding recruitment, retention, and utilization that relate to interventions and require further analyses. In particular,

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×

What can be done to enhance federal recruitment of scientists and engineers, especially women and minorities, at the entry level and retention of scientists and engineers at the midcareer level?

Although not knowing so at the time, conference participants proposed actions in response to that question:

  • Assessments, similar to the DOE program reviews, should be undertaken by all federal agencies employing scientists and engineers in order to verify their recruitment and retention rates, particularly of women scientists and engineers; determine the extent to which glass ceilings and walls have become institutionalized; and develop a plan for eliminating barriers to the recruitment and retention of women scientists and engineers within a particular federal agency.

  • Drawing on programs implemented in the private sector and in the Department of Energy, federal agencies should design strategies that facilitate networking and mentoring among women scientists and engineers.

  • Model programs should no longer function in isolation but should be highlighted as efforts that other agencies might replicate.

  • Consideration should be given to the strategy developed by conference participants for counteracting the glass ceilings and glass walls that women scientists and engineers often encounter in the federal government. The proposed process of starting a "glass-cutter program" has five steps:

  1. Identify the problem (for example, the number of women in a particular federal agency or laboratory at a given level, when normalized to the actual distribution of women and men in that same category nationwide, should replicate their participation in the overall U.S. work force), gather data that confirms the problem's existence, and identify the audience who will receive and respond to such information.

  2. Identify the stakeholders, those who will benefit from changes in policies or programs, and involve them in developing clearly stated goals and strategies for effecting change as well as the rationale for instigating change. Simultaneously, work with

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
×

others outside the organization, particularly those who have initiated similar programs.

  1. Communicate the problem to management, presenting potential solutions and a timeline for achieving them, their benefits, and their costs.

  2. Working with management, determine the details of the program to be established.

  3. Be patient as the program is implemented and developed, recognizing that only small differences may be noticeable at first and that the "best chance for success includes both 'bottom up' and 'top down' efforts."

REFERENCES

Bhattacharyya, Maryka. 1991. Focus an the End Point: Quality of Life of Women Scientists. Paper presented at the National Research Council conference, "Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?," Irvine, CA, November 4–5.

Budd, Marjorie L. 1991. Training and Development Initiatives in the Federal Government. Paper presented at the National Research Council conference, "Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?," Irvine, CA, November 4–5.


Campbell, Alan K, and Linda S. Dix (eds.). 1990. Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Committee on Women in Science and Engineering. 1991. Women in Science and Engineering. Increasing Their Numbers in the 1990s (A Statement on Policy and Strategy). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.


Dix, Linda Skidmore. 1990. Recruitment, retention, and utilization of scientists and engineers in the federal government: Results of a literature review . In Alan K. Campbell and Linda S. Dix (eds.), Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers, Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1990.


Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology, Committee on Education and Human Resources. 1991. By the Year 2000. First in the World. Washington, DC: Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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Gowing, Marilyn. 1991. Promoting Careers in Federal Government. Paper presented at the National Research Council conference, ''Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?," Irvine, CA., November 4–5.


National Science Foundation. 1988. NSF Recruitment of Scientists and Engineers: The Salary Issue. Paper prepared for the Director and Executive Council. Washington, DC: National Science Foundation, Division of Personnel and Management.


Palguta, John M. 1990. Meeting federal work force needs with regard to scientists and engineers: The role of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. In Alan K. Campbell and Linda S. Dix (eds.), Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers, Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1990.


U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). 1990. Department of Energy Review of Laboratory Programs for Women (DOE/ER-0510P), November 16. Washington, DC: DOE, Office of Energy Research.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 1992. Safeguarding the Future. Credible Science, Credible Decisions (EPA/600/9-91/050). Report of the Expert Panel on the Role of Science at EPA. Washington, DC: EPA.

U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). 1989a. U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the Merit System: A Retrospective Assessment . Washington, DC: MSPB.

____. 1989b. Who Is Leaving the Federal Government? An Analysis of Employee Turnover. Washington, DC: MSPB.

U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). 1988. Report to the President. Helping Federal Employees Balance Work and Family Life (OPM Doc. 149-79-9). Washington, DC: OPM. Additional information is available from OPM's Career Entry Group.

____. Federal Staffing Digest 2(1: Fall 1989):7.


Verell, Ruth Ann. 1991. Programs at the Department of Energy. Paper presented at the National Research Council conference, "Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?," Irvine, CA., November 4–5.


White House Task Force on Women, Minorities, and the Handicapped in Science and Technology. 1989. Changing America: The New Face of Science and Technology (Final Report). Washington, DC: The Task Force.

Suggested Citation:"8 Promoting Science and Engineering Careers in the Federal Government." National Research Council. 1992. Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2039.
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Professor Sunil Singh and two first-year interns in Dartmouth College's Women in Science Project, Dolores Morita and Melissa Downs, work in the robotics lab.

(Photo: Joseph Mehling)

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Based primarily on a conference, this book examines the need for interventions to increase the number of U.S. students, both males and females, pursuing careers in the sciences and engineering and describes interventions supported by the private and public sectors at the undergraduate and graduate levels of education.

The individually authored chapters also describe actions taken by employers of scientists and engineers to retain their technical work force.

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