Women are underrepresented and rarely promoted at four of the nation’s most renowned law enforcement agencies, making up just 16 percent of the ranks of criminal investigators, the Justice Department’s inspector general said in a report Tuesday.
Instead women tended to be in administrative or supporting jobs at the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and U.S. Marshals Service, concluded Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz.
They made up 84 percent of the workforce in human resources jobs, 78 percent of financial positions and 53 percent of intelligence analyst posts, according to the report.
Yet only 1 out of every 10 deputy marshals and one out of every five FBI special agents are women. And very few women ran field offices or held senior positions at the agencies. During the inspector general’s study, the number of women who headed field offices dropped from seven in 2013 to just one in 2016.
“We found that between FY 2011 and FY 2016 women held few headquarters executive leadership positions and those positions were usually leading administrative or support units rather than operational units,” Mr. Horowitz said.
Women also struggled to win promotions, according to the report. Men at the ATF made up 52 percent of one of the agency’s service levels, but received 68 percent of the next tier promotions.
Both men and women at the four agencies reported a general belief that promotions were driven more by “who you know than merit,” the report said.
While men saw their agencies as gender equal or felt gender equality was improving, women complained of “a macho culture” and saw ongoing discrimination.
One female FBI supervisory special agent said a male supervisor told her that no one wanted to work with her because she was pregnant, according to the report. Even though she had requested to continue her special agent duties, her supervisor assigned her administrative responsibilities such as filing paperwork and blocked her request to transfer to a different squad.
The agent said an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission staffer told her she had a clear discrimination case, but if she filed it she would be “blackballed forever.”
Mr. Horowitz warned that qualified women may stop applying for promotions, hurting employee morale and diversity.
The inspector general recommended the agencies do more to recruit women, reduce internal barriers to promoting women and improve objectivity in the promotion process.
Kathy Spillar of the National Center for Women in Policing said women can often be more effective at eliciting information from female suspects than their male counterparts.
“These agencies are less effective and less productive than they would be if they had more gender balance,” she said.
In their official responses to the report the agencies said they would try to address the concerns.
The ATF said it would review potential barriers to recruitment and hiring.
The Marshals Service denied there was discrimination, but said it wanted authority to adopt its own rules to hire more women.
“The lack of expected service hiring authority hinders agency efforts to expeditiously address this critical need,” wrote Katherine T. Mohan, the agency’s Associate Director for Administration. “However, once-on board, no ‘glass ceiling’ or barriers exist that prevent women from advancing in the criminal investigator position or other professional series.”
Ms. Spillar said Attorney General Jeff Sessions will need to put pressure on each agency’s director if any meaningful change occurs. One change that could help, she said, would be for federal law enforcement agencies to end the practice of moving agents to new field offices every few years.
“The inspector general is going to need the backing of the DOJ and leadership at the agencies,” she said. “But they are going to get pushback from men big time.”