Women in Public Service Opportunities for Women Pursuing Careers in Government and Civic Organizations

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Exploring Public Service Careers for Women

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.

Salaries for Women in Public Service


Median Annual Salary, 2014

Police Officer or Detective $79,870
Conservation Scientist $61,860
Development/Fundraising Director $52,430
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

Women in Public Service: By the Numbers

  • 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.

An Inside Look at Public Sector Careers for Women

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.

A Legacy of Leadership: A History of Women in Public Service

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.


Wyoming 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.

Embarking on a career in public service

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.

Immigration Officer

$57, 905 36 percent female

Immigration officers work alongside boarder control professionals to ensure all paperwork and visas are in order. They may hold administrative roles where they process visa requests and determine their viability. Hiring committees will look for candidates with a bachelor’s degree in international relations, homeland security or criminal justice.


$79,870 13 percent female

Whether working as part of a police force or a company, detectives are responsible for gathering and analyzing data to be used in forming conclusions about crimes, disputes, wrongdoing claims or misconduct. They may work undercover or in the open, depending on the nature of the case. Those interested should hold an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminology or a similar field.

Federal Special Agent

$102,377 18 percent female

Special agents are concerned with any misconduct surrounding federal statutes, and typically spend their days questioning witnesses or suspects, gathering evidence, completing fieldwork and writing reports. The sensitive nature of the work means applicants must go through an extensive background check and hiring process. They should also hold a bachelor’s degree in criminology or law enforcement, at minimum.

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.

Conservation Scientist

$61,860 45 percent are female/3 percent job growth for 2012-2022

Whether employed privately or by the government, conservation scientists are concerned with environmental preservation of natural resources. They may spend their days researching hazards or sources of harm in laboratories, or they may be primarily field-based. A significant portion of their work calls for creating detailed reports about their findings and disseminating them to appropriate audiences. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum, though many in the field hold master’s degrees in environmental science or a related field.

Forest & Conservation Technician

$35,260 13 percent are female/4 percent job growth for 2012-2022

With a focus on maintaining the health of forests and natural areas, forest technicians assist foresters in inspecting and maintaining the various components of a forest, including soil quality, water levels, insect damage, fire hazards, and replanting. At minimum, those interested should hold an associate degree in forestry technology, conservation science, or a related field.


$57,980 8 percent are female/3 percent job growth for 2012-2022

Foresters can choose from a variety of settings, ranging from a federally owned park to a private forestry company. Responsibilities include overseeing all plans and activities related to forestry and conservation. They develop plans for harvesting and oversee the reforestation process while adhering to all habitat protection regulations. A bachelor’s degree in forestry, environmental or agricultural science, or rangeland management is required.

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.

Development/Fundraising Director

$52,430 73 percent are female/13 percent job growth for 2012-2022

Frequently found in nonprofits, fundraising directors help their organizations meet fundraising goals by planning and leading a number of initiatives to garner funds from large and small donors. They may plan events or host annual giving campaigns, utilizing a mix of methods, such as capital campaigns or major gifts. The majority holds at minimum a bachelor’s degree in social entrepreneurship, finance, public relations, marketing or a related field.

Nonprofit Program Manager

$46,098 77 percent are female/21 percent job growth for 2012-2022

With a focus on social service and community initiatives, program managers at nonprofits have a variety of responsibilities. They oversee teams carrying out events or offering services, create and monitor new programs aligned to the organizational mission, review data to understand a program’s effect and oversee all budget needs. Entry-level positions are available at the bachelor’s level, while more advanced roles require a master’s in areas of social work, business, public health or public administration.

Policy Analyst

$54,657 58 percent are female/21 percent job growth for 2012-2022

With the option to work in the local, state, federal or international arena, policy analysts are on the forefront of emerging legislation and political events. They may conduct public opinion surveys, analyzing election data, forecast trends, present research or serve as a thought leader to media outlets. Support roles can be gained with a bachelor’s level, although those in the top tier hold a master’s or PhD level degree in political science, international relations, American politics or a related field.

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.

Information Security Analyst

$ 88,890 16 percent are female/37 percent growth for 2012-2022

ISAs in the public sector often work for governmental agencies to protect networks from security threats and ensure all technology is properly shielded from infiltration. This may also include training employees on safe use of technology, and detailing any breaches of agency files. Bachelor’s degrees in computer science or programming open the door to entry positions, while the most senior will have an MBA or master’s in information technology.

Information Security Manager

$106,596 15 percent are female/12 percent growth for 2012-2022

Overseeing the work of analysts and administrators, IS mangers direct all IT activities and ensure the technological needs of their organization are fully met. They are on the pulse of changes within cyber security and make decisions concerning the installation of protective hardware and software. Baccalaureate degrees in computer science or information technology are required, along with a few years of experience in the industry.

Network & Computer Systems Administrator

$58,860 12 percent are female /7 percent growth for 2012-2022

Administrators in this role oversee all organizational networks, ranging from local area (LAN) to wide area (WAN). They ensure all employees have access to data stored on the network and oversee the storage and protection of data. Depending on the organization, most will require either a postsecondary certificate or bachelor’s degree in information science or computer engineering.

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.

Emergency Management Director

$64,360 8 percent female/15 percent growth from 2012-2022

Whether serving a nonprofit or government agency, EMDs oversee all activities related to preparing for natural disasters or other emergencies. They create contingency plans, oversee immediate and long-term responses to emergencies, and work with a variety of other agencies to coordinate efforts. Potential employers will look for a bachelor’s degree in fire science, emergency management, or business administration and a few years of experience in the field.

Emergency Response Coordinator

$55,840 34 percent female/8 percent growth for 2012-2022

Providing coordination for on-the-ground responses to emergencies is a large part of an ERC’s duties, as is maintaining relationships with a variety of response agencies. They may also prepare reports about emergencies, communicate their findings, and create training plans based on gathered data. A bachelor’s degree in business administration or emergency management is required, as is prior experience serving in humanitarian assistance or emergency response.

Emergency Management Specialist

$58,445 34 percent female/7 percent job growth for 2012-2022

Emergency Medical Specialists juggle many tasks, ranging from coordinating disaster relief or emergency response to understanding all local, state and federal plans for emergencies. They also prepare reports on response and recovery, design training programs, and oversee response teams. Individuals should have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field, as well as a few years of relevant experience.

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.

Correctional Treatment Specialist

$49,060 47 percent female/1 percent growth between 2012-2022

Working directly with incarcerated individuals, specialists in this line of work create treatment plans, oversee rehabilitation, provide inmate job training, offer counseling, and monitor effectiveness. They may also work with individuals on probation. Bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice, behavioral science or social work are suitable for entry level work, though advanced positions are increasingly requiring a master’s degree.

Criminal Investigator

$79,870 23 percent female/11 percent growth for 2012-2022

While detectives work with a variety of scenarios requiring in depth research and review of evidence, individuals in these roles are exclusively concerned with criminal behavior. They conduct interviews, review public and private records, conduct surveillance, and write reports. They are also often called as expert witnesses in trials. Previous experience goes a long way in the field, and most hold an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or police science.

Criminal Psychologist

$59,448 75 percent female/12 percent growth for 2012-2022

Also known as a forensic scientist, professionals in this line of work analyze the mental state of criminals to gain an understanding of motives or overall stability. They often testify in court cases, speaking toward the minds of both the criminal and the defendant. Individuals must be licensed to practice, a step that requires a PhD or PsyD in psychology with a focus on criminal justice.

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.

Paramedic or Emergency Medical Technician

$31,700 21 percent female / 23 percent growth for 2012-2022

EMTs provide critical care during emergencies by responding to 911 calls and rushing to provide assistance. EMTs offer basic medical services, including CPR and wound treatment, often while racing down the road in an ambulance. Many jobs are available after completing a postsecondary certificate or associate degree in emergency medical technology along with a CPR certificate.

Physician Assistant

$95,820 67 percent female / 38 percent growth for 2012-2022

Working under the supervision of a doctor, PAs perform examinations, diagnose illnesses and treat patents. They often serve as the forerunner to doctors, ensuring diagnostic tests and physical exams are completed and may prescribe medicine in some cases. To become a PA, individuals must graduate with a health-related bachelor’s degree, complete a two-year physician assistant program and have a PA license.

Flight Nurse

$62,206 59 percent female

Flight Nurses are on the frontlines of emergency care, often working in the military or with emergency response teams to care for critically wounded individuals. The path to becoming a flight nurse is long, requiring a RN degree, experience in emergency units and intensive care, a master’s in nursing and certification through the Certified Flight Registered Nurse Examination.

Expert Advice from Women in Public Service


with Blanca Angelica Gonzalez, BSN, MPH
training coordinator for the Center for Public Health Preparedness and a clinical quality specialist with the Cardiac Quality Improvement Initiative.
Can you describe the path to your current career?

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.

What challenges did you face entering your field and how did you overcome them?

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.

What advice would you give to a woman seeking a career in public service?

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.


with Meghan Dudley
NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) since 2005. She is responsible for the oversight of Homeland Security Grant Program planning of several targeted programs DHSES funds to support first responders, including the Bomb Squad Initiative. She has worked on a variety of strategic planning efforts, including the 2014-2016 NY/NJ/CT Regional Transit Security Strategy, the 2014-2016 NYS Homeland Security Strategy and DHSES’s County Emergency Preparedness Assessment (CEPA) program. Between 2012 and 2013, Meghan served at the New York State Intelligence Center (NYSIC) and helped create the Intelligence Liaison Officer (ILO) Program to better integrate Fire/EMS professionals into the State’s information-sharing efforts.
Please describe the path to your current career.

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.

What challenges did you face entering your field and how did you overcome them?

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.

What advice would you give to a woman seeking a career in public service?

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.


with Elizabeth Ricci
an attorney and managing partner in a law firm and specializes in immigration law.
Please describe the path to your current career.

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.

What advice would you give to a woman seeking a career in public service?

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.

Resources for Women in Public Service

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.

  • Balancing the Career-Life Scale

    The National Science Foundation provides a helpful brochure designed to help women balance personal and professional responsibilities.

  • BA Rudolph Foundation Scholarships

    This foundation offers a variety of scholarships, internships, mentor programs and networking opportunities to women who choose public service careers.

  • Facts About Pay Equity

    The National Organization for Women takes a closer look at the wage gap amongst genders, providing practical ways to take action.

  • Family and Medical Leave Act

    The US Department of Labor oversees the FMLA, which mandates periods of leave for pregnant employees and new parents.

  • Government Employment & Payroll

    The US Census Bureau provides annual data about salaries and roles within the US government.

  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness

    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.

  • Anti-Harassment Resources

    The Women’s Center helps women combat sexual harassment and provides suggested policies to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • The Women in Public Service Project

    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.

  • Women in Government

    This national organization is comprised of female state legislators and offers opportunities for networking, building leadership skills and advocating for advancement.