Saturday, May 17, 2014

Gender at State

There are times when I look around my office and the Department and marvel at how female our workforce is.  My office skews more female than male, and our office leadership reflects that balance.  I see lots of women my age (more or less) in the workplace, and we're all at roughly the same point in our careers.  The upper levels of management are a little more skewed towards males, but it's clear that the rising ranks don't look like that at all.  Now that my closest friends are all of breeding age (seriously, four are popping out kids this year), I am more aware of how many women are pregnant at the office.  I can't speak authoritatively to how pregnancy-friendly the federal government is (though it sure would be nice to have maternity leave that doesn't count as FMLA time), but based on my nonscientific observations, the higher-ups had better start thinking about it.  There's a new generation rising through the ranks, and judging by the baby bumps they're going to want more child care options and more acknowledgement that we will not work 13-hour days every day, because we can't count on a wife being at home to make dinner and feed the kids.

The point was really driven home a few weeks back, when I was at a two-day interagency conference.  In some of my meetings, literally the only women in the room were from State, and it was clear how the tone of conversation changed as soon as we walked in.  It became less bro-y, less colloquial and derisive, and more - I hate to say it - professional.  Anyone who's ever met me knows that I have a great love of blue words and that I have no problem being saucy in my casual speech, but professionally I don't do it, and I don't appreciate it when others do it.  The stark change in the tone of the conversation really drove home to me the importance of having decision makers who represent American society - people actually stop to think about what they say before they say it.  It perhaps inhibits free-flowing speech, but only for those who were comfortable in the homogeneity of the environment that allowed them to perpetuate (even unknowingly) the stereotypical behavior that so many people are fighting to overcome.

(Reminds me of a joke: How does every racist joke start?  With a look over your shoulder to make sure the subject of your joke isn't nearby.)

State's not perfect.  The people I see at work are still overwhelmingly white, and our highest levels of management still reflect the palette that formed the bulk of the federal government for too many decades.  However, all it takes is a look at the lower levels of the bureaucracy - the people who will take over when the current management retires - to get excited about the future.