Welles: Who's in the kitchen?

The number of women in government is growing but not fast enough

Women in government are still bumping their heads against the glass ceiling, even in the kitchen.

Members of the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs recently wrote a letter to First Lady Laura Bush, urging consideration of a woman as executive chef at the White House. "Throughout our history, women have been at

the helm of feeding America's families," their letter states. "Now is the time to have a woman at the helm of feeding America's First Family."

It's hard to believe that no woman has led the way in the kitchen of that house.

But women are making their mark in government today in other ways. They are elected to Congress, the secretary of State is a woman, and women hold other Cabinet posts, too. More women are reaching the GS-13 to GS-15 executive ranks in government.

Between 1994 and 2003, the number of women at the GS-15 level increased nearly 75 percent from 9,319 to 16,123. But the numbers are small at those higher levels, and the progress has been incremental. Women account for only 26.3 percent of workers at the highest federal professional and management level, the Senior Executive Service.

In fields that men have long dominated, such as law enforcement, women lag far behind. Although Congress passed legislation more than 30 years ago that allowed women in federal law enforcement to carry firearms, only 15 percent of federal law enforcement workers are women.

"The goal is to achieve gender equity in this profession," said Margaret Moore, executive director of Women in Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE).

"If you don't have the population of women represented, you are missing something important," she added.

Moore said homeland security, for example, requires skills often associated with women, particularly in collecting and analyzing data for intelligence. She emphasized that women have recently become deputy directors at the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Secret Service, adding that "we are starting to recognize the contributions women can make."

To attract and retain women, Moore said, officials should review policies. "Women in law enforcement love their jobs, but 85 percent of them would leave because of lack of family-friendly policies," she said. "This is not a one-person deal. These issues also face men."

You also have to focus on building core competencies and offering opportunities to network and seek mentors, she said. WIFLE will hold its Sixth Annual Leadership Training Conference in Rancho Mirage, Calif., June 13-17.

Members of the Executive Women in Government organization held their annual training summit, "Women Change America: Leadership in a Changing World," in March. Chris Tirpak, one of the group's leaders and a specialist at the Environmental Protection Agency, said building strengths can be a better investment of time for women than battling barriers.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at [email protected].

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