A “permissive” culture at the FBI’s training facility led to female candidates being dismissed and receiving harsher evaluations than their male counterparts, with half the women saying they were subject to sexist jokes or stories, according to a report released Tuesday by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog.
The Justice Department Inspector General reviewed the treatment of FBI candidates at its training academy in Quantico, Virginia, from 2015 through 2020.
Female trainees reported that instructors told them to be more aggressive because of their gender, according to the inspector general’s findings.
One female candidate said she was regularly pulled aside by a supervisor agent and was told that because she was a woman, she was “inherently weaker and needed to be more aggressive, more stoic.” Another female said that she witnessed instructors making sexist or offensive comments about “women and people of color,” the report said.
“These actions reinforced her perceptions of the offensive aspect of the FBI culture,” the report said.
Half of the women interviewed by the inspector general’s office said instructors and trainees told sexist stories and jokes while 48% of the women said female trainees were criticized more than male trainees who were doing the same job.
“A substantial number of women described instructor behavior, including telling sexist stories, using offensive language, and other inappropriate behaviors that went against the FBI’s Code of Conduct,” the report said.
In a response accompanying the report, the FBI said it concurred with the inspector general’s recommendations to address allegations of gender discrimination.
“The FBI has made gender equality a priority and has seen multiple improvements since the review was initiated,” wrote Timothy Dunham, assistant director of the bureau’s Training Division. “We appreciate your feedback as we continue to enhance our training processes at the FBI Academy.”
The review was sparked by a 2019 lawsuit filed by 16 women, including some who still work for the FBI, accusing the bureau of gender discrimination in how it trains and evaluates female candidates and rampant sexual harassment. Currently, the lawsuit is pending in a Washington, D.C., federal court.
Female trainees received a disproportionate number of suitability notations to denote deficiencies that could hinder their efforts to become an FBI employee, the report said. Women accounted for 25% of new agent trainees and received 36% of the suitability notations.
Additionally, while only 3% of all trainees were dismissed from 2015 through 2020, the inspector general found that women represented 46% of those dismissed.
“We found that, in each year of our scope, the Academy dismissed female [new agent trainees] at a higher rate than their overall representation,” the report said.
The inspector general concluded most trainee award categories had objective criteria making it easier for instructors to discriminate and one award category had no criteria for selection. That made it easier for instructors to discriminate against candidates, the report concluded.
The inspector general recommended hiring more female instructors at the academy to help address gender equality concerns. Only one female tactical instructor worked at the academy from 2015 through 2020 compared with 33 male tactical instructors. Similarly, the FBI’s Physical Training Unit had only one female instructor compared with 21 male instructors.
“We believe having more female instructors would have a positive effect on training for men and women by creating an environment in which [new agent trainees] feel more comfortable approaching and receiving instruction and feedback from a variety of instructors,” the report said.