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
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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