Reinventing Human Resource Management

HRM09: Improve Accountability for Equal Employment Opportunity Goals and Accomplishments


It is the policy of the U.S. Government to provide equal opportunity in employment for all persons, to prohibit discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or handicap, and to promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity through a continuing affirmative employment program in each agency.(1)

However, several factors in federal agencies indicate a lack of adherence to this policy. Those factors include glass ceilings, barriers to Americans with disabilities, the lack of management accountability, and negative attitudes and perceptions.

Glass Ceilings for Women and Minorities. "Despite a dramatically growing presence in the workplace . . . progression into the middle and senior levels of management has been elusive for minorities and women. . . . There is a [glass] ceiling. . . . The term glass ceiling refers to invisible, yet real or perceived, barriers which appear to stymie advancement opportunities for minorities and women."(2)

Constance Berry Newman, former Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), said that ". . . the percentages of women and minorities in the SES [senior executive service] and the pipeline to the SES are unacceptable."(3) Most of the SES positions are held by white men. Women hold only 12 percent of these positions, and minorities hold only 9 percent.(4)

A fundamental means of enabling qualified women and minorities to be appropriately represented in the pipeline to the SES is to ensure that they are appropriately present in agencies' key jobs--jobs that can lead to middle and upper management positions.(5) There is a great disparity in the promotion rates for women and minorities in administrative and professional occupations at the grades 9 and 11 levels. This disparity has a significant impact on the number of women and minorities in high-graded jobs, as grades 9 to 11 are the gateways between entry-level jobs and senior-level jobs for most federal government employees.(6)

"At a September 1991 national conference . . . officials from [the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)], OPM, the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the Federal Labor Relations Authority said in public forums that shattering the glass ceiling in the federal government will depend on (1) getting women and minorities into the job tracks that lead to top management and (2) providing them with the necessary training and development opportunities to progress within those job tracks."(7) Doing this will require leadership from the top and accountability for results.

Americans with Disabilities. Females and ethnic minorities are not alone in their underrepresentation in the federal workforce. The largest underemployed minority group in America is Americans with disabilities.(8) Persons with disabilities are underrepresented at all levels. Passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 heightened the awareness of federal managers, supervisors, and employees on the issues of employment, training, and advancing people with disabilities.(9) However, in 1990 only 6 percent of federal employees had disabilities and only 1 percent had severe disabilities.(10)

Federal agencies must, and have begun to, develop and implement effective strategies to ensure that persons with disabilities are given equitable employment opportunities in the federal government. Under Project Able Beneficiaries Link to Employers, OPM, the Social Security Administration, and state vocational rehabilitation offices in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia are working in partnership to create a new referral system that will place employees in direct contact with qualified potential employees with disabilities. In addition, OPM, in cooperation with the Department of Veterans Affairs, announced in June 1993 the implementation of a nationwide Job Ready Disabled Veterans Connection, which enables federal agencies to have rapid access to referral lists of job ready disabled veterans.

The current initiatives are commendable, but the federal government must continue to implement effective systems to increase the representation of job ready Americans with disabilities. There is a very real opportunity today for OPM to facilitate employment, training, and advancement of people with disabilities through a major campaign aimed at those managers and supervisors who make these key decisions.(11)

Lack of Management Accountability. This administration has clearly demonstrated its commitment to equal opportunity and valuing workforce diversity. However, the longstanding lack of management accountability is a critical flaw in and barrier to current efforts to accomplish equal opportunity in the federal workforce. Currently, there is neither a consequence system for agency heads and their managers who do not plan, develop, and implement creative ways in which to accomplish equal opportunity goals nor a reward system for those who do.(12)

While it is important to deregulate, decentralize, and provide a certain degree of management flexibility, increased flexibility in the absence of appropriate accountability could undermine equal opportunity and affirmative employment efforts. Numerous reports issued by the General Accounting Office cite discrimination within the government.(13) Accountability must be encouraged by the President's reaffirmation of top-down commitment.

Agencies must review, evaluate, and control managerial and supervisory performance in such a manner as to ensure a continuing affirmative application and vigorous enforcement of the policy of equal opportunity, and provide orientation, training, and advice to managers and supervisors to ensure their understanding and implementation of the equal employment opportunity policies and programs.(14)

Equal opportunity and workforce diversity should be an integral part of the mission of each and every federal agency. Constance Berry Newman states that "real equal employment opportunity will come about only when each and every executive, manager, supervisor, and employee is committed to and held accountable for equal opportunity. . . . Agency heads must hold their managers and supervisors responsible for EEO [equal employment opportunity] by building it into their performance agreements and standards."(15)

Negative Attitudes and Perceptions. Negative attitudes and perceptions are very powerful barriers to equal employment opportunity and workforce diversity. According to Linda Winikow, corporate policy expert, "On the one hand, civil rights legislation has done an enormous amount to wipe out the legal impediments to inequality. But all too many of the attitudes that prevented the flowering of diversity still exist. Executives have an obligation to recognize that this isn't simply a side issue. It is a fundamental management issue. A manager's first job is to manage--to bring people to their full potential. The glass ceiling does exist, but senior management's job is to do everything possible to provide the training and the climate for success."(16)

EEOC recognizes that treating EEO functions as side issues fosters perceptions of a conflict of interest. EEOC reiterated this concern in an October 1992 management directive that states:

In order for the agency to implement a continuing affirmative employment program to promote equal employment opportunity and to identify and eliminate discriminatory practices and policies, the agency shall appoint a director of Equal Employment Opportunity, who shall be under the immediate supervision of the agency head. Agencies must avoid conflicts of position or conflicts of interest as well as the appearance of such conflicts. . . . In order to maintain the integrity of the EEO investigative and decision making processes, those functions must be kept separate from the personnel function.(17)

In addition, the Code of Federal Regulations states that ". . . the EEO director shall be under the immediate supervision of the agency head . . ."(18) Yet, some federal agencies still treat EEO as a side issue rather than as a fundamental management issue with identifiable accountability.

Experts who have spent many years actively advocating equal opportunity in the federal workforce are also concerned about the effect of negative attitudes and perceptions. Dr. Harriett Jenkins, Director, Office of Senate Fair Employment Practices, says, "Employees must perceive that there are credible efforts to eradicate discriminatory barriers and resolve complaints, [and] those efforts must be real and visible. . . . Because personnel and EEO are inextricably related, it is sometimes incorrectly assumed that EEO should be a sub-part of personnel or human resource offices. This reflects a lack of understanding of the managerial functions of the director of EEO, whose authority flows directly from the head of the agency."

"The director serves as an advisor to the head of the agency and other levels of managers. She or he is a catalyst and implementer of sensitive organizational assessment, corrective management strategies, and ongoing oversight and monitoring of the agency's EEO progress. He or she has the responsibility of assisting the agency head and other levels of managers to comply with civil rights laws, remove barriers to full integration, eliminate subtle and overt discrimination, adjudicate allegations of discrimination, affirmatively reach out to all groups, and ensure that all personnel management decisions are made on merit. . . . Whoever has responsibility for EEO functions has to have the agency head's imprimatur to help the line managers bring about constructive change and full integration of the organization. It is the managers and supervisors in every part of the agency who can determine the successful achievement of the agency's EEO objectives."(19)

Need for Change

Agency heads and their managers must be held accountable to the President, Congress, and the American public for creating, developing, valuing, and maintaining a workforce that is reflective of our nation's citizenry.(20)

While improvements have occurred and the current administration has set the stage for equal opportunity and diversity, the current federal civilian workforce does not reflect the nation's diverse working population. Overall, the federal government has not been successful at eradicating discriminatory barriers, and attracting, retaining, and advancing members of all segments of society at all grade levels. It has been even less successful at integrating members of underrepresented groups into middle and upper management. Much work is still needed to ensure that equal opportunity becomes an integral part of each federal agency's strategic business plan and that management is held accountable for achieving results.

Government is paying an enormous cost for the glass ceiling that keeps qualified women, minorities, and disabled persons underrepresented at all levels in the federal government. It is underusing a major segment of its human resources and delaying attainment of an important goal of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 and other civil rights laws--full representation of all segments of society at all grade levels in government.

As noted by the Council for Excellence in Government, "The federal government needs a career executive leadership cadre reflecting the diversity of America's population. . . . Today there is neither sufficient leadership nor adequate diversity among career executives. . . . The government can develop a diverse group of leaders, but it must take dramatic action to mount an effective governmentwide program and to hold management responsible for achieving results."(21)

It is imperative that federal agencies parallel the push for diversity that this President has started with his political appointments. The government should reaffirm its commitment to equal employment opportunity. Whoever has the primary responsibility for EEO functions must be a full, active member on the agency's senior management team that has responsibility for the allocation of the agency's resources. Federal agencies must focus on action and results and must institute a real system of accountability.


Charge all federal agency heads with the responsibility for ensuring equal opportunity and increasing integration of qualified women, minorities, and persons with disabilities into all levels and job categories, including middle and senior management positions. (2)

The President should issue an Executive Order to all agency heads by fall 1994 stating his commitment to attaining a diverse federal workforce and increasing the representation of qualified minorities, women, and disabled persons at all levels, including higher levels at which they are most underrepresented. The Executive Order should also establish the requirement that each agency head should:

--- build EEO and affirmative employment elements into the agency's strategic business plan and include effective measurements for impact and change;

--- require executives, managers, and supervisors to develop, implement, monitor, and evaluate the organization's affirmative employment plans;

--- ensure that a critical element on EEO, affirmative employment, and diversity is built into the performance plans and evaluations of all managers and supervisors;

--- ensure that the director of EEO reports directly to the agency head and is a full participant on the senior management team(s) responsible for all resource allocations;

--- demonstrate a commitment to EEO and affirmative employment and provide employees a visible sign of credible efforts through such actions as annual policy statements on equal employment opportunity and affirmative employment;

--- identify qualified, as well as high-potential, women, minority, and disabled candidates and implement developmental programs to provide opportunities to effectively prepare them to compete for and hold executive leadership positions; and

--- provide recognition of those managers and organizations that consistently perform well in the EEO and affirmative employment areas, and ensure appropriate disciplinary action in cases where there is a finding of discrimination.

Presidential leadership and an Executive Order that mandates management accountability for equal employment opportunity goals and accomplishments will reassure employees, applicants, and the American public that there is governmentwide commitment to and accountability for creating a federal workforce that reflects America's diverse citizenry.


1. Title 29, Code of Federal Regulations, sec. 1614.101.

2. Dominquez, Cari M. "The Challenge of Workforce 2000," The Bureaucrat, Vol. 20, no. 4 (Winter 1991-92), p. 16.

3. U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), Federal Workforce: Continuing Need for Federal Affirmative Employment, GAO/GGD-92-27BR (Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office, November 1991), p. 3.

4. Council for Excellence in Government, Bringing Leadership and Diversity Into the Federal Career Executive Ranks (Washington, D.C., June 14, 1993), p. 2.

5. Ibid.

6. U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, A Question of Equity: Women and the Glass Ceiling in the Federal Government (Washington, D.C., October 1992), p. 37.

7. U.S. General Accounting Office, Federal Affirmative Employment: Status of Women and Minority Representation in the Federal Workforce, report no. GAO/T-GGD-92-2 (Washington, D.C., October 23, 1991), p. 11.

8. U.S. Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, and U.S. Department of Education, A Call to Action: A Report on Increasing the Employment of People with Disabilities in the Federal Sector (Washington, D.C., July 1992) Appendix, p. iii.

9. Ibid., p. 1.

10. Ibid., p. 5.

11. Personal Interview with Dick Whitford, Acting Assistant Director, Affirmative Recruiting and Employment, Office of Personnel Management, Washington, D.C., August 1993.

12. Personal Interview with Oceola Hall, Director, Discrimination Complaints, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Washington, D.C., July 1993.

13. See for example, U.S. General Accounting Office, Equal Employment: Minority Representation at USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, GAO/GGD-91-31BR (Washington, D.C.: GAO, March 18, 1991); Health and Human Services: Hispanic Representation and Equal Employment Practices in Region VIII, GAO/HRD-91-6 (Washington, D.C.: GAO, November 20, 1990); EDA: Treatment of Blacks at the Economic Development Administration in the 1980's, GAO/HRD-90-148 (Washington, D.C.: GAO, September 26, 1990); and Voice of America: Selected Personnel Practices Warrant Management Attention, GAO/NSIAD-89-160 (Washington, D.C.: GAO, July 12, 1989).

14. Title 29, Code of Federal Regulations, sec. 1614.102.

15. Personal Interview with Constance Berry Newman, Under Secretary, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., August 1993.

16. Linda Winikow, Vice President for Corporate Policy and External Affairs, Orange and Rockland Utilities, Inc., quoted at the Women's Bureau Conference, Washington, D.C., October 23, 1990.

17. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEO Management Directive 110 (EEO MD-110) for Title 29, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 1614 (Washington, D.C., October 29, 1992), p. 1.

18. Title 29, Code of Federal Regulations, sec. 1614.102.

19. Personal Interview with Dr. Harriett Jenkins, Director, Office of Senate Fair Employment Practices, U.S. Senate Washington, D.C., July 1993.

20. Interview with Oceola Hall, Washington, D.C., July 1993.

21. Council for Excellence in Government, p. 3.

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