The public sector encompasses work in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, international development initiatives and educational institutions. In this guide, readers can access in-depth insights and research about careers in homeland security, forestry, public administration, cyber security, emergency management, criminal justice and paramedics.
This guide highlights careers for women in public service, throughout history and today. A 2011 report by the Department of Labor found that women are 50 percent more likely than men to work in public sector jobs, with 18.2 percent of all female Americans serving in this arena. Keep reading to learn more about public service jobs for women and information about potential salaries and education requirements for specific positions.
Median Annual Salary, 2014
|Police Officer or Detective||$79,870|
|Information Security Analyst||$88,890|
|Emergency Management Directors||$64,360|
|Correctional Treatment Specialists||$49,060|
|Paramedic or Emergency Medical Technician||$31,700|
*Median annual wage, May 2014
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
As of 2014, women made up approximately 50 percent of all public sector employees, yet they held only 20 percent of leadership positions.
In a global study of women in senior public sector positions, Canada had the highest number of female leaders with 46 percent of executive roles held by women. Saudi Arabia came in last with no women in leadership roles. The United States came in sixth, with one third of leadership positions filled by women.
Fewer women living in developing countries are working in the public sector (35 percent) when compared with OECD countries (50 percent). Meanwhile, women in transitioning countries hold 46 percent of public service positions.
When comparing public versus private sector benefits, government positions tend to offer better benefits. In addition to job security, public service professionals receive a guaranteed pension, robust health plans at cheaper rates and better retirement plans.
Between 2000 and 2009, compensation for public sector jobs rose by 42 percent, whereas private sector salaries rose by only 32 percent.
Since the term public service is seen as a catchall phrase for numerous career paths, many professionals are still a bit foggy on what public service covers. Spanning international relations and fundraising to environmental awareness and education, the public sector is brimming with exciting career choices. A sample of a few of these jobs is provided below, along with median salary information.
The twentieth century marked a pivotal shift for women entering the workforce and the political arena. While earlier movements, such as those led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Caty Stanton, took root in the late 1800’s, women entering public service vocations did not gain steam until the turn of the century. Efforts by suffragettes led to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 and subsequently opened the door for women in political office. Though a woman has yet to hold the country’s highest office, political analysts agree it will happen sooner rather than later.
Nonprofits represent another area where women’s roles have gradually expanded in the last 100 years. Prior to World War II most charitable outreach was done by women, who served as active and capable volunteers. As more women entered the workforce both during and after the conflict, many began taking paid positions in nonprofit organizations. Today women comprise 75 percent of all employees in this sector, though only 21 percent are in leadership positions.
While women have made great strides in these areas, there are still historically male-dominated sectors where female employment remains low. Many of the careers available in areas of homeland security, forestry, cyber security, emergency management and paramedics fall into STEM – or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – categories, an area where women are still woefully underrepresented. The latest US Census data shows that women make up only 24 percent of all STEM workers, providing insight into the very concrete lack of women in these public service vocations.
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Caty Stanton form the National Woman Suffrage Association.
Colorado becomes the first state where women are allowed to vote.
Martha Hughes Cannon is the first female elected to Utah’s Senate.
The 19th Amendment is signed into law, giving women voting rights.
Arkansas’s Hattie Wyatt Caraway is elected to the US Senate.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is passed, making it illegal to fire a woman or deny her a job because she is, or may become, pregnant.
Janet Reno is nominated as Attorney General.
Secretary of Agriculture is filled by Ann Veneman, the first woman to hold the position.
Branches of the US Military begin allowing women to serve in combat roles, fully effective as of 2016.
Susanna M. Salter becomes the first female mayor in Argonia, Kansas
Clara Cressingham becomes first female elected to Colorado’s House of Representatives.
Jeannette Rankin of Montana is the first woman elected to US House of Representatives.
Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming is the first female to hold the office of governor.
The Equal Pay Act is passed by Congress, making it illegal for women to be paid less than men solely on the basis of gender.
Elizabeth Dole becomes the first female Secretary of Transportation.
A woman, Madeleine Albright, holds the position of Secretary of State for the first time.
Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female Speaker of the House.
The huge variance in public service careers require professionals with education in nearly every field. While some specialized positions may mandate a doctoral level degree, others can be secured with an associate degree. Similarly, the large number of jobs make public service accessible for new graduates and seasoned professionals alike. The following careers provide a glimpse of the range of positions available, while providing insights on educational requirements, average salaries and job growth projections.
Tasked with keeping America safe, the field of homeland security offers individuals with a passion for their country numerous opportunities to make a difference. Whether serving abroad at a US embassy, working in immigration administration or operating as an undercover agent, security agents always have an important job to do.
As environmental scientists uncover the limitations of natural resources, responsible forestry has gained in importance and popularity. Whether working in a lab or outside, the field offers a wide range of careers for varied levels of education and experience.
Public administration encompasses an expansive range of roles, focused on developing local, state and federal legislation, executing policies, overseeing programs, leading teams and managing budgets. The overarching goal of all roles within the field is to promote greater wellbeing for all Americans.
As technology continues to play an increasing role in all areas of business and government, keeping data and records safe is vitally important. Though men have traditionally dominated computer science, more women are beginning to take up roles as the field grows.
Encompassing preventative planning, emergency care services, and long-term response efforts, the field of emergency management draws individuals who seek to be on the frontlines of caring for people and places during trauma. The field is vast, offering women the chance to use their talents to serve in myriad ways.
America’s criminal justice system incorporates governmental agencies and private facilities in addition to state, local and federal court systems. Women have historically held a number of positions in the field ranging from treatment coordinators to mental health specialists.
Much like emergency management, paramedics must be quick thinking, have confidence and handle frequent high-stress environments. While advanced positions require doctorate degrees, the field also has countless positions at the associate and bachelor’s degree level.
I became interested in emergency management while visiting family in Peru. Flooding stemming from El Niño had left parts of my mother’s hometown damaged and many families were displaced. I wanted to do something to help people. Returning home, I began researching careers with the Red Cross and emergency management. My first professional experience was as a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for the rescue squad in my hometown. The squad provided training and afforded me the opportunity to gain experience in patient care and emergency response. I learned a great deal about helping people and it propelled me into my nursing career. After working as a nurse for a few years, I became involved with the Anthrax vaccination initiative and got my first taste for the field of public health preparedness. I returned to school to complete a Master’s of Public Health, and a graduate certificate in preparedness and surveillance. I learned from leaders in the field of public health preparedness, including Dr. Edward Waltz, former Director of the UAlbany School of Public Health’s Center for Public Health Preparedness. Shortly after graduating, I was hired as a training coordinator at the NY/NJ Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center starting my career in emergency preparedness. In this position, I developed training for public health and medical professionals, worked with county and state health departments to plan for and respond to floods, developed cultural competence and community outreach initiatives, responded to Ebola and sought grant funding for disaster mental health and psychological first aid.
My biggest challenges were work-life balance, stress and financial stability. The field of public health and emergency preparedness is often dependent on grant funding and this can be a volatile and difficult environment to work in. Grant funding for these activities is often relative to peaks and troughs in disaster history; a great deal of funding came and subsequently dried up after September 11. This was also the case with Hurricane Sandy and we currently see temporary funding available for Ebola. The peaks and valleys remain a constant source of difficulty for long-term planning, which is a necessity for emergency preparedness. This is one reason Governor Andrew Cuomo’s forward-thinking commitment to create the world’s first College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity at UAlbany is such a promising endeavor, it leverages expertise to help not only New York, but also the nation prepare to meet the challenges posed by the next natural disaster or terrorist attack.
Emergency preparedness professionals, ranging from first responders to physicians and public health practitioners, know it is not always an easy field. There is a great deal of training and certification required and at some point you will sacrifice time with family to deal with the inevitable crisis. But at the end of the day, you will find fulfillment by knowing that you have done something to help those most in need, whether it is flood victims or young patients fighting H1N1.
In terms of leadership opportunities, being a woman has not affected my opportunities for professional development. I have been a crew chief, training officer, and secretary-elect. None of my positions were affected by my Latina ethnicity. If anything, I think my race and sex have been an asset. Women should be aware that careers in emergency management preparedness, public health and public service can be difficult to balance with young children. Disasters mandate professional obligations before, during and after each disaster and the decision to choose family or career can be grueling. That being said, second to my children and husband, being a public servant has provided me with some of the most fulfilling and meaningful experiences of my life.
In the spring of 2005, I was a Ph.D. student at SUNY Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy studying political science. Rockefeller actively works to place graduate students in internships with government agencies. With their support, I was offered as position for the summer with New York’s Office of Homeland Security. After a summer working on a variety of homeland security projects, I knew I wasn’t ready to leave the agency. Lucky for me, OHS offered me a full-time position and I was able to stay in a permanent capacity. Since that time, I’ve had the benefit of working on a diverse portfolio of projects, including the development of targeted programs to support first responders, strategies to guide our homeland security initiatives and efforts to assess our preparedness levels in the state. This work has been professionally rewarding, but has also been personally fulfilling as well. My uncle was a Firefighter with the FDNY who was killed during the September 11th terrorist attacks. Working in this field has given me a way to honor his memory by working not only with the Fire Service, but also with a variety of first responders across the state.
When I began working for the agency, I was very young, very green and had a background that was primarily in academia. Almost immediately, I was working with experienced, “boots on the ground” responders who had already worked a variety of major incidents throughout their respective careers. To overcome my lack of experience, I worked hard to use what skills I had and to assist my colleagues in all projects, large or small. I spent a lot of time working with the agency’s experts to translate their specialized knowledge into documents presented to stakeholders from our own executives to the general public. I tried to understand the unique needs and concerns of the different groups I worked with and to ensure these issues were documented and addressed. An early example of this is our work with the state’s Hazardous Materials Response Teams. Feedback from local teams indicated that they needed direct funding to build regional response capabilities. I worked with representatives from the state’s Office of Fire Prevention and Control to research this issue, develop a business plan to support the community and ultimately, develop a grant program that has been funded since 2008 (with almost $10 million invested) to support this community.
My best advice to anyone seeking a career in public service is to actively take advantage of internship opportunities. These provide an excellent method to learn how government functions and how to work effectively within the public sector. Begin developing a strong network of contacts to utilize moving forward. It’s important to take the time to learn how the formal hiring process works within the different government agencies. For state agencies in New York, many positions are filled through competitive exams, so being aware of the testing process, timelines and eligibility are critical. Lastly, work to find something that you are (or can become) passionate about. Government work, at its best, is about serving the people. This is much more rewarding when you work on an issue or for a community you care truly about. This might not be possible in all points in your career, but it’s something to strive for as you move forward with a career in public service.
I have a business background and originally planned on doing advertising for lawyers since our ads must meet certain ethical standards. I have immigration law experience and when an immigration job opening came up shortly after I started the advertising business, I pursued both avenues then eventually limited myself to practicing law and doing my own advertising, which has been quite extensive.
I like the motto is age quod agis which means, “whatever you do, do it well.” In other words, choose a career that you enjoy and can excel at, not necessarily the highest paying job you can find. If doing that job means lower pay than you’d like, you may need to lower expectations about lifestyle but you can do challenging, rewarding work nonetheless.
Women in public service careers will find support in a variety of professional organizations, which often offer benefits such as tuition aid, mentorship or networking programs, and insight into the latest industry trends and employee rights. The following list provides a snapshot of assistance programs available.
The National Science Foundation provides a helpful brochure designed to help women balance personal and professional responsibilities.
This foundation offers a variety of scholarships, internships, mentor programs and networking opportunities to women who choose public service careers.
The National Organization for Women takes a closer look at the wage gap amongst genders, providing practical ways to take action.
The US Department of Labor oversees the FMLA, which mandates periods of leave for pregnant employees and new parents.
The US Census Bureau provides annual data about salaries and roles within the US government.
The U.S. Department of Education offers a federal loan forgiveness program for professionals employed by the government or a nonprofit organization and have made at least 120 payments toward their loan.
The Women’s Center helps women combat sexual harassment and provides suggested policies to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
Operating as part of the American Society for Public Administration, SWPA is a membership organization offering programs and activities for women working in the public sector.
This initiative was created by Hillary Clinton in 2011 and partners with more than 80 academic institutions and government agencies to advance the role of women in public service.
This national organization is comprised of female state legislators and offers opportunities for networking, building leadership skills and advocating for advancement.