Report: Women face obstacles in federal work force

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Women in the federal workforce continue to face more obstacles than men in reaching top positions and salaries despite making strides over the years, according to a government report released Thursday.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said a major challenge hindering advancement was the lack of flexibility for women raising young children. The report says agencies should expand job-sharing and telework policies, offer different start and end times for workers and create satellite work centers that would reduce commutes.

The report also identified a lack of mentoring and training as key factors limiting many women who want to reach higher levels and management posts. Women are less likely to be groomed for management positions because they don't have mentoring relationships with officials already in those posts, the report found.

Women make up nearly 44 percent of the federal workforce in 2011 but comprise only 30 percent of Senior Executive Service positions, according to EEOC figures from 2011. Those are high-level federal managers who serve just below presidential appointees. Women hold about 38 percent of GS-14 and GS-15 positions, the top pay scales in the main federal pay system.

The report recommends that federal agencies set up formal mentoring programs and monitor how effective they are in increasing opportunities for women.

The report was prepared by a working group of federal equal employment opportunity directors and government program managers charged with helping increase employment for underrepresented groups. Federal officials also heard from advocacy groups including Federally Employed Women, the Equal Rights Center and Blacks in Government.

The report cited a series of other challenges for women:

_ Women are underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields in the federal workforce. In 2012, women held only 31 percent of information technology posts, 32 percent of positions in natural resources management and biological science and 15 percent of engineering and architecture positions. Report recommendations include awarding scholarships to undergraduate students seeking degrees in math and science and pairing employees with mentors.

_ Men and women in the federal government do not earn the same average salary. Women earn about 89 cents for every dollar a man earns, though the pay gap is worse for female blacks, Hispanics and other minorities. That's still better than the private sector, though, where women earn about 77 cents for every dollar paid to men.

_ Gender biases and stereotypes about women still seep into in employment decisions in the federal sector. "There is a stereotypical perception that women should be in traditional female positions such as clerical, nursing and teaching positions," the report found. It recommends more training so employees can become aware of their "unconscious biases" toward women.

_ Women have a general perception that federal agencies lack commitment to helping women attain equal opportunities in the workplace.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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