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Women Senior Execs Dominate at HHS

Female SESers make up 53 percent of the top leadership corps at the department, and 34 percent governmentwide.

This is the second in a series of stories about the demographics of the Senior Executive Service.

The Health and Human Services Department is the only major Cabinet-level agency that boasts more female than male senior executives, according to the latest numbers from the Office of Personnel Management.

Of the 420 total senior executives at HHS as of September 2014, women made up 53 percent of the corps, compared to 47 percent who were men. That’s 223 senior executive women compared to 197 senior executive men, based on OPM’s Fedscope data compiled by CEB, a member-based advisory company. The bulk of the Senior Executive Service’s members are career employees – a whopping 90 percent. Only 10 percent of SES positions governmentwide by law can be non-career appointments. There is a third SES category – limited term or limited emergency – which accounts for a small fraction of the overall total.

HHS houses several agencies with a direct impact on the public, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. President Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget request for the department was $941 billion.

Other agencies where 40 percent or more of senior executives were female as of September 2014 included Education (41 percent), Housing and Urban Development (46 percent), Labor (43 percent), Treasury (42 percent), and Veterans Affairs (40 percent).

It’s perhaps unsurprising that a department focused on public health and families has more female senior executives than other agencies. According to a 2011 report from the Merit Systems Protection Board, women in the upper echelons of government continue to perform “traditionally female” jobs, often in human resources, health or social services, more so than in the fields of engineering, transportation or law enforcement. The Fedscope statistics compiled by CEB bear that out, at least as far as the type of agency: Eighty percent of senior executives at the Army and Air Force, for instance, were male in 2014, while 73 percent of the SESers at the Energy and Justice departments were men.

Still, women are slowly but surely increasing their presence within the SES overall. Thirty-four percent of the 7,802 senior executives governmentwide were female last fall, a rate that has crept up over the past few years. While 66 percent of the SES was male, women are reaching the upper ranks of government faster than their private-sector counterparts: Women held just 14.6 percent of executive officer jobs in the private sector, according to a March 2014 report from the Center for American Progress.

CEB looked at Fedscope data for Cabinet-level agencies, as well as large, medium and small independent agencies. The specific agencies the group looked at were: Air Force, Agriculture, Army, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, HUD, Interior, Justice, Labor, Navy, State, Transportation, Treasury and VA.

Here’s how the demographics of the SES break down by gender based on the Fedscope data compiled by CEB:

(Top image via KieferPix/