June 26, 2018 / 4:17 PM / a month ago

Glass ceiling for female federal investigators: U.S. watchdog report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Women are not getting hired or promoted at the same rate as men in the U.S. Justice Department’s top law enforcement arms, leaving many female employees feeling they face routine gender discrimination in the workplace, the department’s internal watchdog has found.

FILE PHOTO: FBI agents work the scene at the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee July 16, 2015. REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File Photo

A report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz, issued on Tuesday, looked at gender equity issues across the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Marshals Service.

The low number of women in the ranks and the lack of promotions compared to their male counterparts is a large factor behind a perception of inequality that many women in the agencies have, the report found.

In fiscal year 2016, for instance, women comprised only 16 percent of the criminal investigator population across all four law enforcement agencies, it said.

And of the women employed, many worked in human resources or other administrative roles, and few held top leadership positions.

While a majority of male employees surveyed believed the workplace treated men and women equitably, a minority of women - only 33 percent - believed this was the case.

An FBI agent exits her car in Austin, Texas, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Flores

“We find it concerning that 22 percent of all women and 43 percent of female criminal investigators reported to us in the survey that they had been discriminated against based on their gender,” the report said.

“Additionally, in almost all the interviews and female focus groups we conducted, women reported to us that they had experienced some type of gender discrimination.”

Despite the fact many women reported being passed over for promotions or experiencing gender-based discrimination, few decided to file a formal Equal Employment Opportunity complaint.

Many of the women surveyed said they were concerned that filing a complaint might trigger retaliation, create a negative stigma or else they did not have confidence in the process.

“Underreporting and ineffective handling of EEO claims undermines employee trust and confidence that components (agencies) will address discriminatory behavior,” the report concluded.

The report calls on the Justice Department to take steps to improve how it hires, recruits and retains female employees.

All of the four agencies concurred with the watchdog’s recommendations.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Frances Kerry

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