We the Partnership

Diversity in California’s federal workforce: A tale of two trends

By Raquel Ibarra
October 1, 2021

Within his first month in office, Gov. Gavin Newsom signaled his commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, or DEIA, with a new initiative aimed at developing more diverse talent pools for state government positions. Our latest Fed Figures report offers several insights into why directives like this—aimed at creating more diversity in California’s public sector workforce—are both important and necessary.

According to our analysis, the Golden State boasted over 159,000 full-time, nonseasonal, civilian federal employees at the end of fiscal 2020. The research suggests California is a leader in hiring talent from diverse backgrounds. Notably, Black, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and American Indian or Alaskan Native workers compose nearly 50% of these employees, but just over 37% of the overall federal workforce. 

A lack of diversity in senior positions

Nevertheless, a deeper dive reveals stark racial and ethnic inequalities based on employees’ General Schedule, or GS, level. For instance, Black and Latinx federal employees in California make up 33% of those working at GS-14 level and roughly 26% of those working at GS-15 level—the highest grade in the government’s pay schedule composed of top-level positions.

Conversely, white employees hold 66% of GS-14 jobs—and nearly three-quarters of GS-15 jobs—in the state. In other words, white employees hold twice the number of GS-14 jobs—and roughly three times the number of GS-15 jobs—as do the state’s federal employees with different racial backgrounds.

Race/ethnicity of the California federal workforce by GS level

This disparity should be further examined. Future research might explore how the gap affects advancement opportunities for members of the racial and ethnic groups disproportionately represented in lower GS jobs—like the GS-3, GS-4 and GS-5 roles that include federal internships, student jobs and most entry-level positions. Black, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and American Indian or Alaskan Native employees compose over one-half of those working in each of those grades, but do not appear to be moving up the ladder as quickly or as frequently as their white counterparts.  

Recommendations to improve diversity in the workforce

Fortunately, several leading organizations in the DEI space are calling attention to this issue. For example, a 2020 report by Catalyst recommended government prioritize retaining its increasingly diverse employee base, while a report by PolicyLink and others recommend better retention strategies to advance diverse employees to executive-level jobs that come with more decision-making responsibility.

At the same time, other government initiatives—like Gov. Newsom’s diversity initiative and President Biden’s executive order advancing DEIA practices—also use specific language targeting gender identity as a key category for equity and inclusion.

Currently, federal data does not include information on employee gender identity. To more fully address issues of equity and accessibility, federal leaders should shift their approaches to collecting employee data and demographic information. This new data would enable new research to inform more effective efforts to recruit and retain diverse talent.

View the full Fed Figures profile for more insights into diversity in California’s federal workforce.


Raquel Ibarra

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