Slow Progress Toward a Representative Federal Workforce

New Report Shows Government Does Not Reflect the Diversity of the Nation

The federal government made little progress in 2010 in ensuring its workforce reflects the gender, ethnic, and racial diversity of the United States’s civilian labor force, according to a just-released government report.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Annual Report on the Federal Work Force Part II—covering fiscal year 2010—shows that Hispanics are vastly underrepresented in the federal workforce, that men continue to outnumber women, and that large diversity gaps persist at the highest levels of government employment.

“This report shows that while the federal government is a leader in employing a diverse workforce, specific areas for improvement remain,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien. “The EEOC will continue to work with federal government leaders to identify and remove barriers to equal employment opportunity and promote diversity and inclusion in the federal workplace.”

As we argued in our 2011 report—A Better, More Diverse Senior Executive Service in 2050—the federal government should strive to be more representative of the increasingly diverse society it serves, and it should do so by recruiting, hiring, and retaining the country’s best talent. The federal government is the country’s largest employer, with 2.8 million employees. That being the case, our government should lead from the front when it comes to workplace diversity, making sure that its workforce is representative of the citizens that fund it.

According to the EEOC report, Hispanics made up 7.9 percent of the federal workforce in 2010, compared to 14.8 percent of the civilian labor force. The gap widens in positions of federal leadership, where Hispanics comprise just 3.6 percent of senior pay positions. These employment disparities are unsatisfactory, considering that Hispanics are America’s largest minority group.

And while women have made positive strides in the federal workforce, a gender gap remains among leadership. Women were 44 percent of the federal workforce in 2010, compared with 47 percent of the civilian labor force. But when it comes to women filling federal leadership positions, they are still underrepresented—filling just 30 percent of senior pay positions. Government leadership remains largely male (70 percent) and white (83 percent), according to the data.

Likewise, persons with disabilities aren’t adequately reflected in federal employment numbers. Disabled workers are 0.52 percent of senior pay earners and just 0.88 percent of all federal employees—despite an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2011 aiming to make the federal government “a model for the employment of individuals with disabilities.”

To be sure, the federal government is not expected to close these gaps immediately. Rates of educational attainment, the aging of the population, and labor force participation rates are all factors in the composition of the federal workforce. But in a country where people of color are projected to be a majority by 2042, the federal government should work to close large employment and leadership gaps over time—particularly among Hispanics.

As CAP has shown, this can be done by recruiting and retaining more talented people of color and women. Specifically, federal agencies should actively recruit the country’s highest-qualified minority graduates, especially Hispanics. They should also collect better data about who is—and who isn’t—applying to fill federal vacancies. Analyzing data on application, success, and promotion rates of women and different ethnic and racial groups is necessary. Finally, agencies should set milestones for closing employment and leadership gaps by 2030 and again by 2050.

Striving to make the face of the federal workforce mirror the face of the nation is about more than pursuing diversity for diversity’s sake. Our civil servants should be drawn from every sector of our country’s vast talent pool. Doing so will allow the government to promote innovation by drawing insights and opinions from employees with different backgrounds while simultaneously becoming more responsive to the needs of a changing populace. For these reasons, promoting diversity in the federal workforce will go a long way toward improving government effectiveness for all Americans.

James Hairston is a Research Associate in Economic Policy and Vanessa Cardenas is Director for Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress.