The U.S. government often gets compared unfavorably to the private sector when it comes to advances in information technology. But when it comes to diversifying its workforce, especially among information technology leadership, federal agencies are dominating Silicon Valley.
Agencies have commonly been criticized for using outdated technology, including floppy discs and mainframes, and slow procurement processes can mean that by the time a contracted IT project is complete, it’s already outdated. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley companies such as Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc. are considered to be on the leading edge of IT hardware and software.
The public sector isn’t behind in all areas. In fact, Silicon Valley could learn a thing or two from the federal government about bringing more women into their workforce.
Women in Leadership
Women made up about 17 percent of chief information officers for the Fortune 500 companies in 2017. Of the top 25 federal IT agencies, women are the chief information officers in nine, or about 36 percent.
That means women hold more than one third of the top agency IT leadership positions. In fact, the top IT position in all of federal IT is held by a woman. President Donald Trump appointed Suzette Kent on Jan. 26 to be the first woman to hold the top IT position in the federal government, White House CIO. In conjunction, she will be the administrator of the Office of Electronic Government within the Office of Management and Budget. Her top priorities include “organizational learning, diversity and inclusiveness, and career development,” according to the announcement.
At a time when cybersecurity is a top national security issue and leading worldwide threat, bringing high quality IT talent into the federal government remains a significant challenge. Lower public sector salaries, ineffective recruitment, and slow hiring practices are often offered as some explanations for the gap in the federal IT workforce.
Along with the federal IT workforce being short staffed, when it comes to employing women in IT positions, the government appears to be in line with Silicon Valley. Within the two federal IT “startups” — 18F and U.S. Digital Services — about a quarter of the roles are filled by women. Estimates are similar, between 25 and 30 percent, in Silicon Valley companies.
One idea for increasing gender equality among IT professionals is by training and recruiting more women. Kent’s background in workforce education and diversity brings the skills and ideas necessary to increase the proportion of women in the federal IT workforce and simultaneously close the IT skills gap across the federal government. Women in IT leadership positions is a good start for bringing more women into the technology workforce.
(Laura Criste is a federal market analyst with Bloomberg Government.)