The Federal Women’s Program

March is Women’s History Month. Visit the National Archives website for resources and virtual events related to women’s history.

When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, Title VII prohibited discrimination by certain employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. State and local governments, however, were exempt. 

In 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Executive Order 11375, which added sex to other prohibited forms of discrimination in the federal government. As a result, the Civil Service Commission established the Federal Women’s Program (FWP). The program was tasked with identifying barriers that hinder hiring women and womens’ career advancement in the federal government.

In 1972 the Equal Employment Opportunity act brought federal employees fully under the equal employment opportunity provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This resulted in 10 million more employees being protected, including staff at the National Archives.

The Equal Employment Opportunity act required that federal agencies designate a Federal Women’s Program Manager to advise the Director of Equal Employment Opportunity on matters affecting women’s employment and advancement. It also required federal agencies to allocate sufficient resources to their Federal Women’s Programs. 

To help implement the portions of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act that affected its female employees, the National Archives and Records Service (NARS) created a Federal Women’s Program Committee. 

The committee worked with the Federal Women’s Program Manager for General Service Administration (the National Archives’ parent organization) and the NARS Equal Employment Opportunity Coordinator to develop programs and make recommendations to help women improve their career status.  

Before the committee could start making recommendations, it needed data on the current situation. So the committee began gathering statistics on where women at the National Archives stood in regard to grades, promotions, training opportunities, and supervisory status.

Their final report, Statistical Study on the Status of Women in the National Archives, 1974–1976, looked at three years of data from National Archives staff in the Washington metro area. It presents statistical information, including information on collection methods, and identifies problem areas where the Archives should focus to achieve more equitable employment for women.

On average for the three years, women represented just 44 percent of the agency’s workforce. And not only were there fewer women than men, women’s positions generally were an average of two grades lower than their male colleagues’ when all positions were considered. This was because there was a greater concentration of women in lower graded—and lower paid—clerical positions and a greater concentration of men in higher graded, professional job series.

The report made a number of recommendations, including that NARS should make greater use of career assistance programs as well as establish bridge positions to help lower paid women find a pathway to higher paid positions. The report also advocated for greater training for women and to make sure everyone was aware of the training opportunities that were being offered. The report concluded with a recommendation that these sorts of data collection and analysis should continue in future years to determine the effectiveness of any programs that might be implemented to close the gap. 

The NARS Federal Women’s Program Committee went on to sponsor a number of sessions and workshops to support women in the workforce. These included assertiveness training, seminars on continuing education, and workshops for female entrepreneurs. They also hosted a session on “The Complex Role of Black Women” with Dr. Sylvia Render, the first person to hold the position of manuscript curator in African American history at the Library of Congress.

As NARS was transitioning to NARA in 1985, the committee again evaluated the status of the agency’s female staff members, focusing more on the archival jobs series. They found that women and people of color were underrepresented in that series—only 30 percent of the archivists were women, and just 10 percent were minorities.

As with their earlier report, the committee made numerous recommendations, including hiring more women and minorities through special hiring authorities. Another major recommendation that came out of this report was a child care center, which became a reality when the National Archives at College Park, MD, opened. 

Since then, the National Archives has made some strides in providing opportunities for women’s advancement. Today, female employees represent just over half of NARA’s workforce with almost 40 percent of executive level positions being filled by women. The federal government has made strides, too. In May 2023, the National Archives got its first permanent women leader when Dr. Colleen Shogan became Archivist of the United States. 

Today, NARA’s Women’s Affinity Group helps to promote equality and advancement for female employees by increasing awareness of their contributions.

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