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How Government is Diversifying its Tech Workforce

Officials can help the next generation of women tech leaders through mentorship and lifting others up in the workplace.

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Caitlin Gandhi, director and co-founder of the U.S. Digital Corps
Caitlin Gandhi, director and co-founder of the U.S. Digital Corps, speaks at the Women Tech Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., May 15, 2024. Photo Credit: Capitol Events Photography

In many federal workplaces, women remain a minority. But women can advance and bridge the gender gap in government, federal leaders said at the Women Tech Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. Wednesday.

“I deeply believe that you can’t be what you can’t see. That’s why it’s so important for us to also bring in folks that look like us and reach out and bring them along with us so that we continue to make sure that when we look left and look right, we see others that are walking the same path that we’re walking,” said Caitlin Gandhi, director and co-founder of the U.S. Digital Corps.

Gandhi pointed to the Digital Corps’ founding and operation as a fellowship program that sought to not only strengthen the government’s tech talent, but also provide opportunities for women and minorities. According to Gandhi, more than 125 early-career tech and cybersecurity professionals will have been placed in approximately 20 agencies by August 2024.

Defense Department Cyber Crime Center Deputy Director of the Cyber Forensics Lab Lynn Otis said her agency has made a conscious effort to address diversity and inclusion in the workforce.

“The military and STEM career fields have historically been male-dominated fields, but DOD has recognized this. Specifically, my agency has recognized this and has included diversity and inclusion in our strategic goals for 2023 through 2025,” Otis said. “In my agency alone, we have women at all levels, from entry level to the director level. I know when I sit at a table at leadership meetings, I’m happy to say that I’m definitely not the only woman at the table.”

Megan Baird, deputy administrator for the Office of Apprenticeship at the Labor Department, said federal programs like registered apprenticeships, which drives employees to train new skills, can be a gateway for more women to enter the federal workforce and find higher salaries within government as they advance.

These programs can be useful for up-and-coming women employees, but Baird emphasized that success in government also carries a responsibility to help encourage and lead younger women to find their own success.

“I wish that I knew more about my responsibility and understanding, raising up other woman for these opportunities,” Baird said. “When you have that opportunity, you also carry that role of making sure that you’re spreading it around and realizing that not everybody has those champions for them in that mindset.”

IBM Federal Market General Manager Vanessa Hunt said building confidence or asking for help from peers or mentors might be challenging, but informal conversations can have a lasting effect that might not even be noticed.

“You have to fake it until you make it and there’s something that every single person, even if they’re day one in the workforce, has to offer,” Hunt said. “It doesn’t have to be in such a formal way. I’m sure there’s a colleague or a coworker that you end up giving advice to or helping.”

Gandhi emphasized the importance of having women in government to better serve the public and help empower other women in government.

“Three percent of the federal IT workforce is under the age of 30, 26% of the federal IT workforce are women. Obviously, that’s not representative of our country, and that means that critical voices are missing in the design and the delivery of tech products and therefore the services and the way that we’re delivering services to the American people,” Gandhi said.

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