The White House is ramping up efforts to decrease wage discrimination within the federal workforce. The question remains whether or not they need to do so, given the intense politics involved in the gender wage gap debate.

In response to a May 2013 Presidential Memorandum,, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) conducted an analysis of the gender pay gap within the federal workforce and crafted a strategy to address any inequality issues.

OPM gathered information on federal starting salaries, promotions, and agency specific policies and best practices. While women do earn less than men in the federal government, the data from 1992 – 2012 shows that the gap is shrinking. The report does not rule out discrimination as a factor for the gap, but occupational distribution explains much of the gap. For GS employees, male candidates were more likely to secure a higher starting salary; however, female employees received out of step “quality” increases for outstanding performances more frequently.

OPM developed five recommendations to address the gender pay gap.

  1. Clarify the range of GS pay scale flexibility and share best practices on setting starting salaries in gender-neutral ways.
  2. Develop guidelines for agencies to analyze salary, promotions and gender equity.
  3. Explore the need to conduct an additional study to cover more Government agencies not included in the study.
  4. Work with agencies to develop recruitment strategies to increase the number of female employees in occupations that are male dominated.
  5. Work with agencies to develop guidance on more part time or shared part time positions.

Most of the recommendations focus on clarifying, defining, and analyzing agency salary and promotion practices to ensure processes and procedures are fair and equitable. Keeping the spotlight on the issue has positive outcomes. It is also helpful for agencies to recognize that women often have a greater need for job flexibility – although flexible options should be available to both male and female employees.

Focusing efforts on recruiting strategies for females in fields like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is questionable. It is challenging to recruit female candidates that may not exist. A more affective approach would be a long-term strategy to reach younger females at the education levels and encourage them to pursue jobs in the STEM fields. Simply focusing on a recruiting strategy runs the risk of passing over a qualified male candidate just to fill the diversity slot with a female.

OPM Director, Kathy Archuleta expressed satisfaction on the OPM blog with the progress over the past twenty years. Her focus is on creating pipelines for women to address the imbalances in hiring for occupations. Archuleta was primarily concerned that females only hold one third of management and executive positions, and she has vowed to prioritize mentoring and training for females to help move them into SES positions. Strategies like this make the assumption that GS 14 and GS 15 female employees want SES positions but simply lack the training to move to the next level.

It can be difficult to understand where a true pay gap in the federal workforce exists. The federal workforce has a highly structured pay system that is public information. Performance or achievement gaps do exist because specialty pay varies based on what the individual has accomplished. Individuals, who do not make the same moves or take the same risks to add additional skills and experience, should not expect to reap the same reward as those who do. Still, it is encouraging that the government is striving to be an example. Archuleta states, “I will continue to strive to make the Federal government a model for ensuring that all people, no matter their gender, are paid equally and fairly for the work they do.”

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.