The key to achieving leadership positions as a woman in the federal IT workforce is a willingness to move often to the best opportunity, according to current and former senior-level IT officials who spoke at the “Trailblazing Women in Government” luncheon hosted by the Association for Federal Information Resource Management on Thursday, Jan. 25.
“What I would encourage folks to do is to move around, try different positions and also be really open to new experiences in life. Don’t limit yourself, try not to stay in one organization for a really long time. I would say every five or six years start thinking about moving and going on,” said Adriane Burton, chief information officer at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resource and Services Administration.
Between 2012 and 2016, the percentage of women serving in the Senior Executive Service has hovered between 33 to 35 percent, according to a 2017 Office of Personnel Management report on SES employees. This means that most leadership positions in the government are still held by men.
In 2016, women also held only 25 percent of the nation’s tech jobs, according to a report by the National Center for Women and Information Technology.
Stacy Dawn, assistant director for privacy and security compliance at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Information Technology, explained that moving up the professional ladder in government requires a breadth of experiences, which can often only be gained from working a variety of positions.
“Apply for every promotion that looks interesting to you, because let them tell you if you’re the best qualified. Because you might think it’s interesting, you might be a little unsure, but they’re going to pick the best qualified and if that is you, then you own that job,” said Dawn.
Frequent movement also enables the minority of women working in federal IT to find positions that appreciate their talent.
“Move often. Don’t stay where you are not loved,” said Adrian Gardner, CIO at the Federal Emergency Management Administration, who moderated the panel. “You need to go where you’re valued.”
A strategy of changing positions every few years may also appeal to millennial employees in the federal government, as research has shown that younger generations prefer to change jobs every five years or so.
“What you think you think you want to be today is probably not what you’re going to end up being five years from now, so my philosophy was always do really good work, keep your head down, but also keep your head up paying attention to things around you and how they’re changing,” said Beth Angerman, executive director of the Unified Shared Services Management Office at the General Services Administration.
Renee Macklin, director of IT and enterprise services at the Department of Commerce, said that employees should also strive for constant education to keep on top of the ever-changing nature of technology.
“It’s very important to continue to get professional development, because if you don’t you can’t stay on top of what’s happening,” Macklin said.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.