On this year’s International Women’s Day, the Biden Administration signed an executive order forming the White House Gender Policy Council and affirming that “advancing gender equity and equality is a matter of human rights, justice, and fairness.”
The order highlights the importance of leading on this issue by setting an example from within. It emphasizes the need to promote “workplace diversity, fairness, and inclusion across the Federal workforce.”
For me, it’s moving to see such intentional focus being put on gender equity, particularly for the federal workforce. Government can be a role model for the U.S. workforce overall by meaningfully advancing gender equity across all federal organizations. Effective use of data will be essential to doing so.
Data is key to building on past progress. With data as their focus, agencies can identify both existing and future obstacles, break down silos in collecting and reporting data, and increase transparency to enhance data’s value. These data-driven insights can then ground their next steps forward.
Federal government’s progress toward gender equity
The federal government has made significant progress in supporting gender equity. A December 2020 GAO study, which measured the federal workforce’s pay gap from 1999 to 2017, found that “the estimated pay gap … in the federal workforce is smaller than the pay gap in the entire U.S. workforce.”
Yet challenges remain. While the federal pay gap has significantly decreased, it persists – 7 cents on the dollar in 2017. And it’s essential to address the complexities of intersectionality: as of 2017, pay gaps are larger for Hispanic/Latina women, Black women, as well as American Indian or Alaska Native women.
The pandemic has also introduced new challenges that disproportionally impact women. Accenture co-sponsored a recent global study on this issue and found that only 46% of women globally felt “included” in the workplace in August 2020, compared to 55% pre-pandemic. Unpaid labor has increased too; mothers are spending an additional 1.3 hours a day on childcare on average compared to pre-pandemic levels.
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Federal workers are not immune to these obstacles. Agencies must proactively work to support women in the workforce to sustain past progress and accelerate advances.
Data is essential to advancing gender equity
The government has often been viewed as a leader on data transparency, which helps foster trust, especially around equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts.
To continue advancing gender equity, agencies can further use data to identify trends across the workforce, reveal gaps or disparities, and identify opportunities for improvement.
Agencies can analyze hard metrics, such as workforce promotion and exit rates across genders, and then expand insights by measuring more intangible qualities, such as equitable job satisfaction and flexibility.
Breaking down barriers so data can be properly collected and reported across the enterprise is critical. Agencies can begin doing so by asking questions such as:
- What are all my available data sources?
- Agencies can evaluate existing resources, such as the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), NFC Insight, and USA Staffing, to ensure they are maximizing their value when it comes to measuring and gaining insights about gender equity and diversity within their workforce. Beyond these sources, they can also survey their own workforces with more specific questions.
- How can I make connections across those sources without compromising privacy?
- What essential data am I missing?
- For example, an organization may trend positively with 50% women in the workforce. Upon digging deeper, though, women make up only 10% of executives.
- What processes can I put in place to make data collecting and reporting repeatable and digestible across the enterprise?
- How can I mitigate bias in data collection?
- Data needs to cover the full spectrum of diversity, scenarios, and experiences to create a holistic picture. When gaps are seen, deep dive barrier analysis can help determine opportunities for improvement.
Using data to inform human-centered goals
Agencies can then take a data-driven approach to setting strategic directions, initiatives, and actions for inclusion. Human-centered design should be central to this approach, underscoring the need for robust continuous feedback loops.
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Agencies can take a data-driven approach to setting strategic directions, initiatives, and actions for inclusion. Human-centered design should be central to this approach, underscoring the need for robust continuous feedback loops.
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For example, the pandemic forced a mass shift to remote work. Agencies took bold steps when enabling their employees to safely work from home. The greater flexibility allowed by remote work can be a positive for many women in the workforce, who often disproportionately shoulder caregiving responsibilities.
Federal organizations can proactively measure how this flexibility has positively impacted women in their workforce and apply that learning to inform future policies and processes. Agencies can also obtain feedback from employees for whom remote work is not possible to learn how to best support them so all can equitably succeed. With this type of data in hand, agencies can clearly keep their employees’ needs at the forefront of their human capital strategy.
We live in a time where robust data is now the expectation, not the exception. It is critical to building trust and accountability, particularly when it comes to equity, inclusion, and diversity.
As every agency seeks to achieve gender equity, it is important they carefully examine how they are measuring it and pursue new data sources and methods that more fully capture the people whom they could and should be serving. From there, agencies can combine data with the personal stories, experiences, and contexts of their organizations to create a deeper understanding of their workforce’s needs in relation to gender equity.
However, just knowing isn’t enough. Agency leaders must use these insights to drive action. This data-driven understanding can inform agencies’ policies and communications, building the foundation for the next strategic steps forward. With the right data in hand and a commitment to advancing gender equity in the federal workforce, agencies will be on the path toward best supporting women so all employees can succeed.