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Federal discrimination is in the news again

On Behalf of | Mar 29, 2023 | Employee Discrimination

Two recent news articles offered different takes on discrimination in the federal workforce. One addressed the recent advances in workforce diversity. The other addressed the recent increase in discrimination complaints.

The first of these articles looked at the data from an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) report. The second explored the $70 million paid out for discrimination cases in 2020. Together, these articles suggest that the federal workforce is headed in the right direction, but it still needs concerned employees to help shove it forward.

A look at workforce diversity

The EEOC’s report on workforce diversity in the federal government appeared to divide itself in pieces. At the lower end of the General Schedule (GS), the workforce has definitely become more diverse. At the higher end, however, we continue to see a disproportionate number of men. Specifically, we see an overabundance of white men in high-ranking roles:

  • White men accounted for 41.4% of GS 1-10 and Senior Pay despite representing only 28.1% of GS 1-10 roles
  • Women accounted for 53.9% of all positions GS 1-10 but only 40.5% of GS 11-SES and Senior Pay
  • Hispanic/Latino women were half as likely to hold positions at GS 10 and above (3.6%) as they were to hold positions at GS 1-10 (6.1%)
  • The only groups that saw greater representation in the higher ranks than GS 1-10 were white men, Hispanic/Latino men, Asian men and Asian women
  • All other groups were underrepresented at GS 10 and above compared to their share of lower ranking roles

The EEOC admitted that its numbers provided an incomplete snapshot of workforce diversity. For example, it didn’t track the representation of other groups, such as workers with disabilities. Yet we know these employees also struggle to earn fair representation.

Perhaps there’s an explanation

While the EEOC’s look at diversity shows us the symptoms, its reporting on recent discrimination claims may point toward the underlying cause.

As noted in Government Executive, the EEOC’s report showed a 39.4% increase in the number of discrimination findings from 2019 to 2020. While the total number of claims declined, the number of substantiated claims rose. But the report isn’t notable just for the number of discrimination findings; it also breaks down how employees encountered that discrimination:

  • 7,506 claims of reprisal or retaliation
  • 4,221 claims of age discrimination
  • 4,214 claims of disability discrimination
  • 3,972 claims of race discrimination
  • 3,643 claims of sex discrimination

One thing it’s important to remember when you look at these numbers is that reprisal and retaliation don’t just include removals. They also include negative performance reviews and demotions. Retaliation can hold employees back from career advancement, and retaliation complaints commonly accompany other complaints. Employees who file race or sex discrimination complaints often file retaliation complaints at the same time.

Putting the pieces together

In summary, the two different looks at the EEOC’s reporting show that the government is recruiting a more diverse workforce. However, federal employees do not all benefit from the same advancement once they get started. Certain groups, especially white men, receive favorable treatment. Others may find themselves held back.

Of course, if someone holds you back because of your age, disability, race or sex, you have the right to seek justice. The process can be difficult, but it’s often the only way to advance your case. It’s often the only way to advance workplace diversity, and we should be grateful to those who have pushed back earlier. They have helped pave the way for improvements we see today. Now, it’s up to us to continue moving things forward.


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