Leadership positions and promotion opportunities in the Department of Justice appear to favor men with friendly connections over women with merit, according to a federal report published this week.
The Office of Inspector General reviewed perceptions of gender equality across the department’s four law enforcement agencies — the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshal’s Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — after receiving complaints from “multiple sources,” including Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, about discrimination and harassment.
According to the inspector general’s findings, from 2011 through 2016, women accounted for only 16 percent of criminal investigators and fewer still held executive leadership positions. Women also appeared more often in support roles related to human resources, finance or program analysis rather than operational duties.
“We found that a majority of male staff, but a minority of female staff, felt their component was gender equitable and/or that gender equity was improving,” the inspector general’s report read, noting “a significant number of women” across agencies and roles reported gender discrimination “in some form,” though promotions appear to be the most egregious example.
The percentage of women in supervisory roles appears to decrease with wage grade level in every agency except the Marshal’s Service, the inspector general found. The finding suggests women struggle to advance in the FBI, DEA and ATF, according to the report.
“Also troubling to us was that all types of staff reported the perception that personnel decisions were driven more by ‘who you know’ than by merit,” the report reads. “Our analysis suggests that perceived bias and favoritism in personnel decisions affect staff’s perceptions about gender equity. We believe that this could negatively affect staff’s trust and belief about equity in an agency and possibly discourage qualified employees from applying for promotion.”
The OIG gathered the data through 133 individual interviews, 57 focus groups and more than 8,100 responses to an anonymous survey, representing about 15 percent of the four agencies combined. About 51 percent of respondents identified as male, while 34 percent identified as female and 1.5 percent chose neither gender identity. The report makes no mention of the remaining 14.5 percent of respondents.
“Leadership of the law enforcement components told us that they were striving to increase the diversity, including gender, of staff to better represent the population the component serves,” the report reads. “We found that the components were taking some steps to increase the diversity of their workforce through recruiting. However, the components have not fully identified all the barriers to recruiting women that may be specific to their respective component.”
The OIG released six recommendations to the DOJ to improve gender equity and diversity, including:
- Assess recruitment, hiring, and retention activities to identify barriers to gender equity in the workforce.
- Develop and implement component-level recruiting, hiring, and retention strategies and goals that address the identified barriers to gender equity in the workforce.
- Develop and implement a plan to track and analyze demographic information on newly hired staff and applicants, as appropriate, to evaluate recruitment strategies.
- Identify and take steps to address barriers to advancement for women within the component and among different job types.
- Develop and implement methods to improve the objectivity and transparency of the merit promotion process.
- Develop and implement methods to address perceptions of stigmatization and retaliation associated with the Equal Employment Opportunity complaint process.
All four agencies concurred with the findings and have taken steps to implement the outlined recommendations, according to the report.
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