In the U.S. government, the number of women in leadership positions is greater than that of women in leadership in the private sector. Data from a 2015 Office of Personnel Management (OPM) study show that women make up 34.4 percent of the senior executive service (SES), or the executive level of the federal government, compared to 14.6 percent of senior leadership roles in the private sector. In 2014, 43.5 percent of women between the ages of 23 and 34 were managers, compared to 26 percent in similar positions in the private sector. Finally, the data also show that the gender pay gap in the federal government continues to narrow. In 2014, nationally, women were paid 79 cents for every dollar a man was paid. In 2015, across the federal government, women in white-collar jobs were paid 89 cents on the dollar men were paid.

In the public sector, women have been advancing into leadership roles more easily than elsewhere, due to the existence of more opportunities for women to advance there. However, there is still progress to be made in closing the gap between men and women in leadership positions, especially at the senior leadership levels.

While working with women who are part of public service training programs in Washington, D.C., we surveyed a sample of both women and men in those programs to determine what some of their largest issues are and what can be done to help women in the public sector advance in their careers.

A few key issues that they raised were the lack of female mentors and guides, inadequate family leave and maternity leave policies, limited opportunities to advance, and women’s limited confidence in their ability to advance into higher positions. They also said that they wanted more opportunities to be mentored and training on:

  • Unconscious bias: understanding and growing the awareness of what might be getting in the way of women’s being chosen for upward mobility in the organization
  • Negotiation: for better pay, opportunities and upward growth
  • How to speak up once they have a seat at the table
  • Networking and developing relationships to help build the right community to support them in moving into the next level

Women in the public sector are hungry for more awareness, insights and training on how to develop their skills, enhance their awareness, and truly be able to thrive in public service. They need the support, however, to do so. That’s where training professionals can come in: to provide additional skill development to enhance their already strong standing in the federal government.

All the data show that women are making progress in the public sector. Organizations like the Wilson Center’s Global Leadership Initiative and the Women’s Bureau in the Department of Labor are working to track the data associated with women in the public domain and promoting the welfare of women who are wage earners. Training professionals can also continue to support the growing need of women to grow in the public sector.

March was Women’s Leadership Month at Check out our research report “Women’s Access to Leadership Development: A Tale of Two Experiences” by clicking here, watch our webinar recording, listening to this podcast episode or read the other great articles we published this month on developing women leaders: