WASHINGTON -- Secret Service agents are often portrayed in popular culture as disciplined, unflappable, loyal -- and male. A spiraling prostitution scandal that has highlighted the dearth of women in the agency that protects the president and dignitaries has many wondering: Would more females in the ranks prevent future dishonor?
Only about a tenth of field agents and uniformed officers are women. A scandal that risks portraying the agency as unfriendly to women could set back efforts to close the gender gap.
"I can't help but think that there would be some progress if there was more diversity and if there were more women that were there," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Women make up about 25 percent of the agency's workforce, but only about 11 percent of agents and uniformed officers, said spokesman Ed Donovan.
The agency has aggressively recruited women, targeting female-oriented career fairs and sending brochures to colleges.
"We all recognize that we want to get more women into the Secret Service," Donovan said.
Paige Pinson, 45, spent 15 years with the agency and her father, W. Ralph Basham, is a former director. She said it wasn't the culture that encouraged her to forego her agent's position. After all, male agents were loyal to each other and fiercely protective of her. It was, instead, the birth of her first child that inspired her to seek a less travel-intensive analyst's position.
However, Donna Milgram, executive director of the National Institute for Women in Trades, Technology and Science, said that ultimately the prevailing culture at the agency is a detriment to more women joining the ranks.
Meanwhile, embarrassed by the scandal, the Secret Service will assign chaperones on some trips to enforce new rules of conduct that make clear that excessive drinking, entertaining foreigners in hotel rooms and cavorting in disreputable establishments are no longer tolerated.
During trips in which the presidential limousine and other bulletproof vehicles are transported by plane, chaperones will accompany agents and enforce conduct rules.