Rosie the Programmer

Although the federal government is not always a paragon of equal opportunity,

it has nevertheless been viewed as a place where women and minorities could

expect a fairer shake in the competition for good jobs than the private

sector. From Rosie the Riveter to Madeleine Albright, the government has

often sought out women to fill a void in the economy or to showcase a commitment

to workplace fairness.

In today's technology-driven economy, the federal government could be

expected once again to be a place of ample opportunity, where women could

get started earlier and move up faster. After all, we are living in one

of the tightest job markets in history.

To some extent, that pattern is holding true: More women hold IT jobs

in the federal government — from the top chief information officer to the

lowest programmer — than ever before.

Yet what few statistics there are show a workplace that is dominated

by men. In some places, such as the Defense Department, the ratio of men

to women in technical jobs is 10 to 1. Clearly, given the critical shortage

of IT workers in government, the numbers are way out of sync.

Whatever the root cause of this problem, the fix is more education.

That's why a congressional commission headed by Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.)

has recommended setting up specific targets for improving access to science,

engineering and technical educations for women, minorities and people with

disabilities.

As the commission has rightly concluded, the country's competitive edge

in the global economy will be sharpest when we take steps — including making

funding available — to educate those who have been historically under-represented

in technical careers. The country's diversity has been a source of strength

in the economic advances of the past, and it will be no different in the

high-tech challenges of the future. Certainly, there is no better place

to start showcasing that commitment than in the IT offices of federal agencies.

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