Leading the way: Tips to empower women in government
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Leading the way: Tips to empower women in government

March 28, 2023 | Updated on February 26, 2024
Christina Schiavone

 The Partnership for Public Service’s recent LeadHERship series found that despite being highly rated on the core values and competencies of our Public Service Leadership Model, women remain underrepresented in federal leadership roles and continue to experience persistent barriers to advancing in government.  

While agencies and leaders need to work on implementing long-term systemic changes to address these problems, women in our leadership development courses and who have read our study are still left with one question: “What can I do to help close the gap”?   

Building upon our recommendations from this research, below are questions for individuals to reflect on as they navigate the systemic obstacles at their agencies and work against general perceptions of women in leadership. 

Public Service Leadership Model
  • What are my unique strengths and how do they help me achieve results? Think about the next professional version of yourself. What does it look like to be leading and contributing at the next level? What do you need to be doing differently to take steps to make that next version a reality? Consider using tools and resources to explore your strengths and areas for development, such as our Public Service Leadership 360 and executive coaching.  
  • How might I step outside my comfort zone and seek new opportunities? Our data showed that there was only one subcompetency in which men were rated higher by others than women: embracing risk and uncertainty. We also found that women have a less favorable view of their own performance and leadership skills than others do.

    Yet we know that taking risks and leading through uncertainty is a big part of professional growth. If you were to audit your individual risk-taking over the past six months, how often would you say that you tried something new? What strategies did you use to navigate feelings of uncertainty and discomfort? What support is needed to become more comfortable with these situations?
  • What can I do to model taking a “whole person” approach to my work? Women are often expected to assume primary caretaking responsibilities outside the home, yet government lacks the infrastructure and organizational norms to support leaders on those situations. Our recommendations encourage leaders to recognize and support employees as they build their own unique version of “work-life harmony.” Individuals should have the flexibility to holistically integrate workplace ambitions, outside interests and unique life circumstances.  

    Whether you lead others or are an individual contributor, you can model setting boundaries and supporting others as they do the same. How might you block time on your calendar for events that are important to you, such as an obligation at your child’s school or a networking session with colleagues? How are your values reflected in your priorities and how you spend your time?  
  • How might I build intentional relationships and networks of support? It’s important to remember that all leaders need some type of sponsorship and support as they advance in their careers. Take time to assess your networks of support. What does your current support system look like? Do you have individuals with diverse perspectives who can help with your long-term career goals?  

    That individual might be a decision-maker advocating for you, or a coach who challenges your assumptions about yourself or a colleague who shares their subject matter expertise as you are undertaking new project responsibilities. Consider opportunities to expand your professional horizons and meet people outside of your day-to day work, such as groups like Executive Women in Government, the Senior Executives Association or other government-wide affinity groups. 

The barriers women in leadership face will not change overnight. But as we continue to celebrate women’s extraordinary contributions to our government, my hope is that we can also take steps to address gender disparities in the federal workforce and build a more inclusive leadership corps that delivers for the public. 

To learn more about our research on women’s experiences in federal leadership roles, please explore our LeadHERship series. 

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