Women in government technology provide much more than a shift in statistics. The diversity provides a hotbed for innovative ideas, top female executives said during a keynote session at the annual FOSE convention in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
“There’s a real business reason to think about how we bring more women into the workforce,” said Lisa Schlosser, deputy associate administrator in the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of E-Government and Technology. “The fact of the matter is that bringing diversity into the workplace inspires more ideas and innovation.”
Schlosser, who was recently featured in Breaking Gov’s series on women in federal IT said that bringing diversity and new ideas to the workplace is “a value to our business as opposed to trying to meet a quota or trying to meet some statistic” and is part of building a culture of innovation in government.
The fact of the matter is that bringing diversity into the workplace inspires more ideas and innovation.” – Lisa Schlosser
But statistics tell an interesting story. Schlosser noted that about 25 percent of current federal CIOs are women and that three winners of the 2011 Google Science Fair were teenage girls who beat out 10,000 other student competitors from 91 countries.
At the same time, Judith Marks, president and CEO of Siemens Government Technologies, lamented things haven’t changed enough. She said that technology leaders must find ways to drive a math and science agenda among young people to help them get on a technology career path.
“I went to engineering school almost 30 years ago and I have a daughter in engineering school now, and frankly the numbers haven’t gotten all that much better over three decades,” she said. “It’s frustrating to know that at 10 or 12 years old, whether it’s a young girl or anyone else, if you get off the math and science track, you’ve already opted out of a career in technology,” she said.
She and other panelists said encouraging young girls to aspire to technology careers should start at the elementary school level, and that math and science skills are key.
“We need critical thinking skills,” said Dawn Meyerriecks, an assistant director in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “Numeracy is the No. 1 predictor of those skills.”
Those skills are necessary to solve some of the biggest challenges facing government technology leaders today, including guidance and regulations for the use of social media, finding efficiencies in the “day-to-day commodity technologies” to save on costs and reinvest in new technologies, and putting practical acquisition processes in place to help agencies keep up with “the state of the art” in technology.
“What we’re seeing across the government is that the biggest problem isn’t the new technology, it’s getting rid of the old crap we have,” Schlosser said. “Our challenge is eliminating those old, old legacy systems that have been around the government for 20 or 30 years so we can take advantage of some of emerging technologies.”
Linda Brooks-Rix, president and chief executive officer, Avue Technologies, said, “It’s very hard for a government agency to be able to innovate when their procurement policies and practices…are antiquated in comparison with where technology is.”