Diversity & Inclusion in the Forest Service Workforce:
Trends and Advances over a Twenty-Year Period

Research Issue

We need to understand historical patterns, problems, and successes in order to achieve a workforce that reflects the diversity of the people we serve and that is a rewarding place for all to work. Since 2009, a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Science Team in the Northern Research Station has applied rigorous scientific methods to study employee demographics and workplace culture. The first round of studies assessed gender representation and experiences of discrimination within the Northern Research Station’s scientific workforce. This research found that roughly half (51%) of Station scientists perceived a direct impact of discrimination on their careers and/or attitudes towards the agency, but in comparison with academia Forest Service Research & Development fared better with regards to advancement of women (see publications listed below).

Since 2018, with funding from the Forest Service Washington Office of Research & Development, we have embarked on a new suite of studies that broadened the scope of investigation to demographic diversity across all Deputy Areas (i.e., National Forest System, State & Private Forestry, etc.), job series, job level (grade), and locations using anonymized employee data covering 1995 to 2017. We analyzed longitudinal trends in workforce composition (e.g., employee race/ethnicity, gender); recruitment, advancement, and separation across Deputy Areas, job series, and job levels (manuscript in review). We are also conducting spatial analysis of duty station diversity in local context (e.g., census data comparison).

Our ReseaA montage of Forest Service employee headshots.rch

This research allows us to look beyond hiring numbers and investigate advancement, voluntary and involuntary separations, and effectiveness of intern hiring programs to increase diversity. Our goal is to not only identify needed improvement, but to provide information that can help the Forest Service with its efforts to create a diverse, representative workforce where all can thrive.

Research Results

  • Diversity & Inclusion timeline Presented as a StoryMap, this timeline presents civil rights and environmental legislation, Executive orders, and other formal actions along with milestones in Forest Service history. Links to documents, audio and video recordings, and many photographs bring Forest Service history to life. https://doi.org/10.2737/FS-Diversity-Inclusion-Timeline
  • Descriptive employment numbers over time. We compiled descriptive statistics of workforce diversity between 1995 and 2017 by race/ethnicity, gender, and race/ethnicity + gender, for all employees, Deputy Areas, and grade groups. We found an overall decline in the Forest Service workforce of nearly 20% and a decline in Research & Development of nearly 50%. Also of note is an increase in diversity in leadership roles along with decreasing diversity in lower graded positions. Example figures below - select each image to enlarge figures. This work is published in the Journal of Forestry.

  • Analysis of initial grade, advancement, and separation. In this paper (currently in review), we analyze career trajectories (initial grade, length of service, separation type) by race/ethnicity, gender, and the combination of the two. Our analysis shows that BIPOC (BIPOC is an acronym for Black, Indigenous and People of Color) employees advance more slowly and are significantly more likely to be involuntarily separated.
  • Routes into the Forest Service: trainee positions and regular hires. This analysis looks at employees who started as trainees, including Pathways, Cooperative Education, and SCEP/STEP trainees. We compared the career trajectories of BIPOC and female employees who came in as trainees versus those who joined the Forest Service as “regular” hires. Findings suggest that BIPOC employees who started as trainees are more likely to convert to career positions within the agency than their White peers, but that entering the Forest Service as an intern does not significantly alter other career trajectory metrics (paper is in review).
  • Spatial analysis of diversity trends. These in-progress analyses look at variations in employee diversity at the workplace level. The first analysis assesses the extent to which workplace diversity reflects that of surrounding counties. This question is designed to add nuance to comparisons to national-level Civilian Labor Force or population data. Findings suggest that Forest Service workplaces tend to be less diverse than the surrounding communities. Next up is analysis of which workplaces, forests, or other units do especially well with regard to recruitment and advancement of a diverse workforce.  
  • Diversification across job fields. This in-progress analysis builds off earlier studies of the Forest Service that linked employee racial/ethnic and gender diversity to diversification of job fields from timber-oriented positions to “-ologists” with expertise newer to the agency. Our questions include whether representation of BIPOC and female employees is even across the agency’s natural resource management job fields, or whether those in disciplines new to the Forest Service bear the double burden of demographic and science diversification.

Publications and Products

Westphal, Lynne M; Dockry, Michael J; Kenefic, Laura S; Sachdeva, Sonya S; Rhodeland, Amelia; Locke, Dexter H; Kern, Christel C; Huber-Stearns, Heidi R; Coughlan, Michael R. 2022. USDA Forest Service Employee Diversity During a Period of Workforce Contraction. Journal of Forestry. 66(7): 584-. https://doi.org/10.1093/jofore/fvab071.

Westphal, Lynne M.; Dockry, Michael J.; Bramwell, Lincoln; Brown, Hutch; Lootens-White, Jim; Kenefic, Laura S.; Sachdeva, Sonya S.; Locke, Dexter H.; Fisher, Cherie L. 2022. Forest Service Diversity in Context: An Interactive Timeline. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. https://doi.org/10.2737/FS-Diversity-Inclusion-Timeline

Kern, Christel C; Kenefic, Laura S; Dockry, Michael J; Cobo-Lewis, Alan. 2020. Discrimination and Career Satisfaction: Perceptions from US Forest Service Scientists. Journal of Forestry. 118(1): 44-58. https://doi.org/10.1093/jofore/fvz057.

Kern, Christel C.; Kenefic, Laura S.; Stout, Susan L. 2015. Bridging the gender gap: demographics of scientists in the USDA Forest Service and academia. BioScience. 65: 1165-1172. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biv144.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Lynne Westphal, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Social Scientist
  • Laura Kenefic, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Forester, Team Leader
  • Sonya Sachdeva, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Social Scientist
  • Dexter Locke, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Social Scientist
  • Cherie Fisher, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Social Scientist

Research Partner

  • Last modified: June 2, 2022