Panel seeks advice on boosting diversity in senior ranks

A coalition of federal employee groups met with lawmakers Monday to discuss how to increase the number of women and minorities in the upper ranks of government.

The meeting, led by Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., chairman of a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the federal workforce, brought members of six organizations together to discuss ideas for increasing diversity in the Senior Executive Service.

"There are large numbers of women in the workplace at the lower levels of opportunity, but as you get higher and higher, the numbers become fewer," Davis said last week at an event sponsored by the advocacy group Federally Employed Women.

The discussions came in response to a hearing the subcommittee held in May, during which representatives from six agencies and the Postal Service indicated that the greatest challenge to ensuring diversity is simply drawing a more mixed pool of applicants to senior-level jobs.

"One of the reasons the SES is not more diverse is because the pipeline doesn't have the candidates that it needs," said Bill Bransford, general counsel for the Senior Executives Association, on Friday.

Bransford, who represented SEA at the meeting, said his organization's goal is to promote initiatives that would diversify the applicant pool. One possibility would be to provide training opportunities to women and minorities early on in their federal career, he said.

FEW has offered Congress four suggestions, said Janet Kopenhaver, the organization's legislative representative. One involves allowing women and minorities, many of whom tend to enter government at the lower ranks, to get advanced training. Currently, this training is only provided to upper-level managers, most of whom are men, the advocacy group argues.

FEW also has proposed creating a strong mentoring program for women and minorities by offering incentives to senior managers to establish, endorse and participate in the program. The group recommended that participation in a mentoring program become part of supervisors' and employees' performance requirements.

The advocacy group Blacks in Government, which was slated to participate in Monday's meeting, could not be reached for comment. But it recently has proposed holding top executives accountable for attempts to increase diversity in their organizations. The group has recommended that these efforts be made a critical element of executives' performance evaluations.

According to Lori Hayman, a counsel for the subcommittee, there are currently no follow-up meetings scheduled. But she said the subcommittee plans to draft legislation during the August recess. "Currently, there are no details on what this legislation might entail," she said.

Bransford said Monday that the subcommittee seems "serious about doing some things to change the system to result in more diversity in the SES in the very near future."

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