Despite the many advances of women, particularly in the developed world, women continue to face barriers and challenges in the workforce. This is true even in the public sector. In many policy areas the public sector is held to a higher standard than the private sector when it comes to preventing discrimination and ensuring equal opportunity, however subtle and not so subtle forces remain which are reflected in the opportunities and recognized achievements of women in the public service.
A gap remains with regard to holding positions of power. With regard to public service and government the lack of women in power perpetuates policies and programming that continues the status quo. That status quo includes alarming statistics, such as the continued prevalence of a gap in pay between men and women. On average women in the United States earn $11,000 less than men annually for work of equal value (, n.d.). The power and pay gap compounds issues of discrimination which create even more negative profiles for minority women.

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The perception of barriers to public service leadership for women are similar across genders, with the identification of childbearing and leave, multiple roles in the household, confidence levels and subtle discrimination as some of the factors that prevent women from self-selecting for or being selected for senior positions (Evans, Edwards, Burmester, & May, 2014).

A major factor which has been identified by research as a barrier for women in both the public and private sector is the perception of gender roles. Schein’s research on the phenomena which covers three decades can be summarized with the title of her first paper- “think manager- think male” (Schein 1976). Male personality traits are still considered the hallmark of good work performance, and this has an impact on the perception of women at work, including those with careers in the public service (Schein, 2007).

There are social costs for women who work in government organizations, particularly when women feel they must choose between personal and career goals. Professional women continue to face dual roles in terms of expectations at work and in the home. Women continue to be the primary caretakers of their children and managers of their households. Even though some strides have been made in recent decades, and many couples have found innovative ways to ensure that the workload is shared, pregnancy, childbirth and maternity leave continue to have their impact on career progression and the perception of women at work.

Organizations and advocates continue to use research, awareness and other means to ensure that women have the same opportunities as men with regard to careers and leadership in the public service sector across the developed world and beyond. The Section on Women in Public Administration (SWPA) is an organization which seeks to bring persons of both genders together to collaborate in the promotion of women in the public sector (SWPA, 2014). Through advocacy and programming the leadership of women is developed, facilitated and recognized. Outreach activities include their official publication, Bridging the Gap (BTG), as well as scholarship programs, conferences and awards (SWPA, 2014). They also conduct research resulting in Profiles of Outstanding Women in Public Administration, providing role models and examples of a changing gender landscape in the public service (SWPA, 2014).

Challenges continue to confront professional women in the public service sector, but the trend is towards increased women in positions of leadership, and closing up the pay gap. Still, it is happening very slowly, and in the meantime the women who work in the public service continue to have to work harder, both at home and in the workplace, for less pay and less recognition.

  • (n.d). The Pay Gap. Retrieved from:
  • Evans, M., Edwards, M., Burmester, B., & May, D. (2014). ‘Not yet 50/50’–Barriers to the Progress of Senior Women in the Australian Public Service. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 73(4), 501-510.
  • Schein, V. E. (1976). Think manager, think male. Atlanta Econ. Rev. 26: 21–24.
  • Schein, V. E. (2007). Women in management: reflections and projections. Women Manag. Rev. 22: 6–18.
  • Section for Women in Public Administration. (2014). About – SWPA Origins. Retrieved from: