By Dan Gephart, February 22, 2022

What do you want first — the good news or the bad news? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s recent report on older Federal workers offered a little bit of both. Let’s start with the good news. General job satisfaction, perceptions of workplace inclusion and fairness, as well as having your agency EEO Director report directly to the agency head, all lead to a decreased likelihood of having an age discrimination complaint, according to the report conducted by the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations. Basically, the data is providing a clear path to limiting discrimination complaints at your agency. And following this path will improve your FEVS scores and make your workplace more desirable to current and future employees. Kind of a win-win-win-win.

And there’s more good news. Employees 40 years or older make up 72 percent of the Federal workforce. That’s a whopping 18 percent higher representation than 40-and-up employees in the overall civilian labor force (CLF). Also, the Federal cohort is more diverse than its private sector counterpart.

Now the bad news. The report found a a significant pay disparity between older men and older women in the Federal workforce. The EEOC also found a persistent pay gap between white and Asian Federal employees as compared to other groups of older Federal employees.

Mxolisi Siwatu, PhD, an EEOC Office of Federal Operations (OFO) social scientist research analyst, took time to answer our questions about the report.

DG: Why do you think the 40 and older cohort is better represented in the Federal workplace than the private sector? What do Federal employers do right?

MS: We argued that it is possible that the difference between the private sector and the public sector in EEO performance may be due to greater oversight. The Office of Federal Operations gained increased oversight responsibilities with the introduction of Management Directives 110 (2003), which provides guidance to federal agencies for how to process EEO complaints; and Management Directive 715 (2003), which provides guidance to agencies for how to maintain an EEO program. Also, OFO provides ongoing technical assistance to Federal agencies in support of these directives, which may also contribute. However, it must be noted that this is speculation on the part of the authors and no causal analyses were conducted in the current research.

DG: Men account for 57 percent of the Federal workforce 40 or older, while it is only 45 percent in the private sector. Is there an explanation for that wide gap, and what do you suggest that agencies do differently to narrow that gap?

MS: We did not speculate on why this gap was found. However, OFO conducts technical assistance visits regularly with each Federal agency. During these visits, their participation data are assessed in relation to the CLF. Recommendations are provided to Federal agencies to address any discrepancies observed and progress is monitored thereafter. So, if we note gender disparities, it is addressed with the specific agency.

DG: The report identifies the perception of fairness as a predictor of age discrimination complaints and shares six strategies to achieving that fairness based on research by Jennifer Lee and Ann Smith. What actions can EEO specialists and supervisors take to immediately improve the perception of fairness?

MS: Lee and Smith’s article was written primarily for private sector companies. Many of the strategies identified by Lee and Smith are already practiced in the Federal sector due to guidance derived from MD-110 and MD-715. To drill down to the office or supervisory level, agencies may engage in demonstrated commitment to EEO in a way that is visible and meaningful to their workforces as a way of improving perceptions of fairness.

[Editor’s note: The six strategies identified in the Lee and Smith research are: authorizing workers’ complaints by allowing third parties to advocate on the part of disadvantaged populations and employees; creating enhanced penalties for engaging in discrimination; mandating that employers disclose information to workers about their rights; having strong anti-retaliation laws; expanding liability by placing the burden of proof on the employer; making reporting of employer discrimination data to the public and governing bodies mandatory.]

OFO recommends activities that promote EEO awareness, anti-harassment education for staff and managers, timely complaint processing and resolutions, and having a reporting structure in which the EEO program director reports directly to the agency head. In addition, ongoing monitoring of diversity and inclusion at the agency with respect to hires, promotions, and separations is required. Ongoing commitment and proactive prevention efforts may help promote a climate of EEO among the workforce that encourages lawful treatment, but also confidence in reporting unlawful treatment when appropriate.

[Editor’s note: FELTG offers several upcoming virtual training events that can help improve your DEIA efforts including:

DG: One of the main findings of the report is the importance of having EEO high up in the reporting structure, most effectively having the EEO Director report directly to the agency head. For those agencies where that’s not the current situation nor likely to be, what advice can you provide for EEO professionals and supervisors?

MS: OFO has been working to encourage all agencies to reorganize their EEO office so that the EEO Director reports directly to the agency head, as required by MD-110. As of FY2019, currently 61 percent of agencies have an EEO Director that reports directly to the agency head. OFO continues the goal of achieving 100 percent compliance among all agencies with this requirement as it remains one of the key priorities during technical assistance visits and audits.

Siwatu did not specifically say whether agencies are making progress on the hiring of a Chief Diversity Officer, as suggested in Executive Order 14035. However, he did say that the EEOC has been an “active participant in the implementation” of the EO and the goal is to have the CDO and EEO Director positions “complement one another to meet the Administration’s broad equity goals.” [email protected]

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