Issue Briefs

Following is the summary of a recent EEOC report on the low rate of women in public safety jobs in the federal government and containing recommendations on recruiting and hiring practices to help boost that representation.

A. Workplace Demographics
OPM FedScope data allowed the EEOC to analyze the gender break-down of public safety and law enforcement jobs by each agency and by each occupation group/code. Agencies with low participation rates should consider analyzing their current recruitment and hiring processes. They also may consider adopting processes from agencies with more gender diversity, particularly if those agencies recruit for similar types of public safety or law enforcement work.
Among agencies included in the study, Customs and Border Protection, in the Department of Homeland Security, has the lowest female participation rate. Customs and Border Protection had no women serving in the position of Customs and Border Protection Interdiction, and women comprised only 5% of Border Patrol Agents. The EEOC hopes that the recommendations below may help DHS in their recent, significant hiring efforts.
On the positive side to be emulated is the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, which has in its Park Ranger occupation 66% women-the highest female participation rate among public safety agencies. This rate is high compared to other agencies that employ Park Rangers, such as the Department of the Army, which has a 25% female participation rate. The Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service success may be attributed to the many outreach initiatives that it implemented to engage, inspire, and provide career pathways for youth and young adults. These outreach initiatives include the Student Conservation Association, the Youth Conservation Corps, and Youth Engaged 4 Change.
B. Workplace Climates
An agency’s self-assessment should include more than a review of workforce demographics. The results of climate assessment surveys also are part of a comprehensive evaluation, because workplace climate may play a role in the success of an agency’s gender diversity efforts for public safety occupations. One tool for analyzing workplace climate among federal agencies is the FEVS, questions 34 and 38 of which concern employee views on agency success at promoting a diverse workforce and the agency’s tolerance for prohibited personnel practices, respectively.
Out of the thirteen agencies reviewed, an average of 59.80% of surveyed employees believe that their agencies have successful programs and policies to promote a diverse workplace, while an average of 26.01% employees were neutral, and an average of 14.22% disagreed. With respect to prohibited personnel practices, an average of 69.46% of employees surveyed agreed that prohibited personnel practices are not tolerated within their agency, 17.22% were neutral, and 12.82% disagreed and believed that prohibited practices are tolerated by their agency.
This analysis of FEVS data may assist agencies to know whether they need to improve in these two significant areas. The FEVS data also may spur agencies to survey specific occupations on these and other factors relevant to hiring and recruiting. Since the FEVS survey is conducted annually, agencies may consider performing a trend analysis to mark progress and track success.
Climate assessments also should consider how applicants may perceive the agency based on the information it makes externally available. To gain more perspective on the environment surrounding applicants for public safety occupations, EEOC RED staff reviewed agency websites to uncover what information study subject agencies share with candidates interested in employment in public safety occupations, such as the information available for enticing prospective employees to apply. RED Staff found that most agency websites have an employment page that depicts females in the selected occupations, which also details the different opportunities available at the agency. Some agency website employment pages also included a diversity statement.
C. Historical Review
The historical review revealed how law enforcement and public safety employers have treated women, and how the legal system has favored policies that reduce the barriers to female employment. Among the various screening methods used for public safety occupations, it appears that gender-normed fitness tests are the most likely to pass legal muster, if they are relevant for the job and impose an equal burden on men and women. Gender-normed tests, in comparison to other fitness or physical appearance requirements, appear to help increase the participation rates of females in those positions.
D. Focus Groups
Focus group participants shared reasons that they believe relatively few women work in federal government public safety occupations. Some felt that it was due to a lack of work-life balance, or that women do not see themselves as able to raise families and still perform in these occupations. Others believed that perceptions created barriers: perceptions that women were uncomfortable with carrying firearms or handling the potential for physically strenuous job functions. Hiring officials expressed concern that physical testing may hinder females, as they may be less likely to pass the rigorous physical fitness exam requirements. However, the women now employed in these positions stated that they passed the physical testing, and they did not feel that it was too rigorous. Focus group members also voiced concerns that no existing initiatives help or focus on recruiting women: initiatives to hire veterans target a heavily male-dominated applicant pool, and the use of Schedule A for persons with severe disabilities also does not specifically target women. While these have become very popular hiring practices implemented by the government to correct low workforce participation rates of other protected groups, they may add to the already large disparity in hiring women to public safety occupations.
V. Summary of Leading Practices and Ideas
The focus groups yielded several interesting recommendations for increased effectiveness in the recruitment and hiring of women. In general, participants believed that there is much work to be done in the federal sector to ease doubts among women over whether true equal employment opportunity exists in public safety occupations. These doubts, whether justified or not, deter women who may otherwise make strong candidates. Further, focus group participants felt that many of the current hiring and recruiting strategies have not helped to maintain gender balance in public safety occupations. Below are some of the focus groups’ leading practices and/or ideas to address these psychological and organizational barriers, and additional recommendations from OFO’s experience working with agencies in other fields to increase gender diversity in recruitment.
Recruitment Ideas and/or Practices
Coordination of a Government-wide cadet program. Citing recruitment strategies among local and state law enforcement agencies, focus group participants suggested that the federal government create a cadet program to serve as a gateway for recruiting and orienting potential public safety employees for federal service government-wide. Since one major barrier to recruiting women in public safety occupations is a misconception of what working in such occupations will require, cadet programs may help to demystify such service and reduce the anxiety associated with any misconceptions. A cadet program may better communicate to women the accessibility of public safety occupations. Also, junior cadet programs could be extended to younger women allowing high school students to jump-start their careers by training them for law enforcement or other public safety occupations before they transition into the workforce.
Targeted outreach at the grade school level. To dispel early misconceptions about out-of-reach job requirements for public safety occupations, focus group participants also suggested that public safety agencies engage in outreach to youth as early as elementary school. Outreach could take on various forms, including school career days, summer employment programs, mentoring, integrating presentations with substantive instruction, or providing tours on-site. Outreach could communicate to children the progress made in policies and practices that promote equal employment opportunities in public safety professions despite one’s gender. Participants cited the National Park Service (NPS) as an example of how targeted outreach during primary school may help in recruiting female public safety professionals. NPS’ current initiative, to help foster an interest in careers at the agency, introduces fourth grade through high school students to its educational and career opportunities. These strategies could be adopted by other public safety agencies in the federal sector.
Targeted recruitment at the college level. Another barrier to women in public safety professions cited by the focus groups was a lack of targeted recruiting of women from female- focused environments. It was argued that, as a whole, the federal government has failed to target female-only colleges and universities, or even sororities, as populations from which to recruit. Recruiting in female-focused environments would improve access to a greater range of female personalities and interests, increasing the chances of finding women with interest in the profession. In particular, sororities may be a natural filter for women interested in public safety occupations given their generally strong group loyalties and commitment to community service-related tenants and traditions. Greater efforts to reach such women may improve success in recruitment. Finally, the focus groups suggested that female athletes and their athletic departments also may serve as a rich opportunity for successful recruitment, because women who excel in sports also may be more likely to meet the physical demands of public safety occupations. If informed of the various opportunities, women may find that they enjoy the occupation.
Increased visibility of female recruiters. Finally, with respect to recruitment, the focus groups identified a greater need for female recruiters. Several of our respondents argued that they were recruited by men and that a lack of a visible females during the recruitment process further reinforced the stereotype of public safety as a male-dominated profession. Some participants explained that the presence of a female recruiter was the determining factor that gave them confidence to pursue, and even remain in, the profession. Focus group members argued that it is very important for applicants to see women doing the work to convince potential hires that talk of gender equality efforts in public safety occupations are a reality.
Hiring Ideas and/or Practices
Set diversity strategy goals tied to recruitment and hiring. Although most public safety agencies already have some form of hiring goals for women, the focus groups criticized the federal sector for its lack of innovation by only focusing on the number of females hires as a performance goal rather than understanding the gender disparity’s root causes. The focus groups suggested that diversity goals emphasizing hiring strategies over outcomes might increase female hiring. For example, a diversity strategy hiring goal could be to visit four female college athletic departments per year. Agencies should not set a numerical hiring goal for women, but instead focus on the barriers that may limit female participation.
Make an Administration-wide push. Focus group members suggested that an administration-wide initiative, awareness campaign, or emphasis on hiring more women into public safety occupations in the federal government could increase hiring of women at the agency level.
One-stop, one-day hiring process. The federal sector could adopt the approach currently used by Career One Stop Centers to make the hiring process less overwhelming for potential candidates. Career One Stop Centers are a source for employment information and inspiration and are designed to make such information easier to understand so that job seekers are better prepared to enter the workforce. The focus groups suggested that, when recruiting in female-focused environments, agencies could provide applicants with the opportunity to seek assistance with the application process, participate in physical fitness exercises, and engage in mock interviews. Such exposure may help demystify the hiring process for women who otherwise may find it intimidating.
Use Social Media. Social media may improve the hiring of women into public safety occupations, by communicating job openings, demystifying job requirements and application procedures, and promoting a positive public image of these professions.
Other Recommendations
OPM Recruitment Policy Resources. OFO recommends that agencies utilize the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Recruitment Policy Studio to gain further insight on effective recruiting practices and ideas to help reach recruiting goals.
Pathways Program. The Pathways Program offers federal internship and employment opportunities for current students, recent graduates and those with an advanced degree. The program contains three different paths: 1. the Internship Program for high school and college students, 2. the Recent Graduate Program for college graduates, and 3. the Presidential Management Fellows Program for advanced degree candidates.