While the federal government has made progress in getting more women into the technology field, there is still a lot more to do across agencies to boost the numbers and mentor women, according to female government IT leaders.
Speaking Jan. 25 at a luncheon sponsored by AFFIRM, the officials said that diversity is needed to enhance their agencies' missions. They also said that while some women are gaining ground in areas of federal IT, they are still underrepresented in engineering roles. And more needs to be done to mentor women, the IT leaders said. Those positions largely echo what female IT leaders said at a similar luncheon AFFIRM held in 2017, an indication that attention is continuing to be paid to the issue and that progress has been incremental.
The numbers prove that women are underrepresented in IT positions. According to data from the Office of Personnel Management, from 2015 to 2017, women made up about 43 percent of the total federal workforce in the executive branch. According to data OPM released in June 2016, as of September 2015, women held 70,047 of the federal positions in the science, technology, engineering mad math (STEM) fields. That was up from 64,574 in 2008, according to OPM.
"I do believe that everybody brings something to the table, and diversity is so important when you're trying to solve some of the problems that we deal with in technology, because everybody brings a different point of view," Renee Macklin, the Commerce Department's director of IT enterprise services, said at the AFFIRM event, Federal News Radio reports. "And no point of view is, 'This is the only way.' And I think, when you embrace that, and understand that you need each other in that whole diversity realm, you get a better solution. "
Mentorship Can Help Women Climb IT Career Ladder
Women are increasingly entering STEM fields across the government, but they are not always evenly distributed, officials said.
"Especially in the IT field, I see a lot of women programmers. I don't see a lot of women network engineers and network security," said Adriane Burton, CIO of the Health and Human Services Department's Health Resources and Services Administration, according to Federal News Radio.
A study released by the Commerce Department in November concluded that "women make up a disproportionately low share of degree holders in all STEM fields, particularly engineering." As of 2015, the report said women held only 24 percent of STEM jobs.
That has been a challenge at HRSA, Burton said, but she stressed that diversity is important. "As a manager, you want to make sure you are looking and evaluating diversity within your organization on a regular basis," she added.
The women on the panel emphasized the important role mentorship plays in getting more women into federal IT roles. Stacy Dawn, the assistant director for privacy and security compliance at the Securities and Exchange Commission, said this also helps women move up the ranks.
"With my direct reports, I ask each of them, when we have our reviews … 'Do you aspire to get to a position like the one I fill right now?' And not everybody does," she said. "So, there's not a lot you can do for somebody who's very happy in their position. They could be doing a wonderful job, they don't want to leave, and that's fine.
"We need those people, too," Dawn said. "But the ones that do aspire, you give them guidance — what training, what books to read and help them fill out the USAJobs application if they're not sure how."
Beth Angerman, the executive director of the General Services Administration's Unified Shared Service Management office, agreed and said mentorship fosters the development on a new cadre of federal IT leaders.
"Have a mentor, but also be one, because I think making that connection is important so that you can pass on the advice that you get. But I also think it's important in terms of developing the next generation of people," Angerman said, according to Federal News Radio.
Janice Haith, a former deputy CIO with the Navy, said the Defense Department encourages mentorship. "They train you in DOD to be a mentor," she said. "They have various stages at different grade levels, but military trains civilians, civilians train military, because if you work in DOD at the Pentagon, it's a different flavor than if you work in the military outside of the Washington area. So, you have to learn to find a balance with them."