Rising expectations

Linda Massaro always thought she had to try harder than the men to succeed

in government. "You had to do a better job because you were going to be

watched," she said. But from where she sits now, as chief information officer

and director of information and resource management at the National Science

Foundation, Massaro, 53, is watching more women succeed.

"I think women have come a long way," she said. Women in the top echelon

of government still are underrepresented, but at gatherings of groups such

as the CIO Council, Massaro has noted that she sees a lot more women than

in the past.

Women in government information technology jobs are finding they are

climbing toward the top faster and in ways they never could in other fields.

The reasons are varied. For one, the rapid expansion of the high-tech work

force is creating opportunities for women.

"It is in our nation's best self- interest to take strong steps to nurture

the talents of women, minorities and persons with disabilities to fill the

demand for skilled workers in science and technology fields," said Rep.

Connie Morella (R-Md.).

Also, the federal government has an obligation to serve as a model workplace,

reflecting the diversity of the population and enforcing labor practices.

"Government has one advantage to private industry, which is that it

must be more socially conscious," said Ruzena Bajcsy, 67, director of NSF's

Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering Directorate. "It has always

been, including the military, a tremendous opportunity for the underprivileged."

At the same time, IT encompasses a wide range of job skills, beyond

pure math and science, so it is often a magnet for government workers who

are generalists. "In this field, the sky's the limit," said Linda Burek,

41, deputy CIO at the Justice Department. "You've got such a need out there

and inadequate resources that, if you are halfway decent, it doesn't matter

if you are blue or purple or 10 feet tall."

Massaro, trained as a mathematician and physicist, has ascended the

federal pyramid from her first job in the Navy to the senior executive level

at NSF. She has found it relatively easy to succeed — with a few exceptions.

At one job near the beginning of her career, she was told that a male

colleague would be promoted because he had a wife and children to support,

while she had a husband who could support her. "That was hard to take,"

she said.

The working environment for women has changed dramatically since then,

even though nothing approaching parity with men exists in federal IT.

Women make up about 22 percent of the government's Senior Executive

Service, up from 11 percent in 1990. In the work force at large, about

9 percent of all engineers are women, and 27 percent of computer programmers

are women, said Morella, chairwoman of the Commission on the Advancement

of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology.

This month, the commission released a report offering recommendations

on ways to expand the high-tech work force. The solutions, however, are

long-term, costly and require a change in attitude:

* Technology education must start sooner; women and minorities should

be targeted in high school.

* Science and technology scholarships must be available for college

students.

* Private- and public-sector employers should be held accountable for

the career development of women, minorities and people with disabilities.

* The image of science and technology professions must be transformed

to feel inclusive.

Meantime, federal IT opportunities are increasing for women. Part of

the reason is that the requirements for success are different than in other

fields. Federal IT offices are not necessarily looking for people with scientific

or technical degrees. Instead, federal IT managers and people forming IT

policy often have more general business, financial or management backgrounds.

Sometimes, a lack of technical knowledge even helps at the management

or policy-making level. "I don't need a lot of technical knowledge. In fact,

sometimes it has helped [that I don't have that knowledge] because I can

approach it from a different angle," said Sally Katzen, counselor to the

director of the Office of Management and Budget, who has been involved in

the development of much of the IT policy at civilian agencies.

Indeed, because government no longer sees IT as an end in itself, it

is often not the nuts-and-bolts technical knowledge that is needed. "With

respect to Y2K and e-government...it's not as important to know how it works

as it is to know what it can do," Katzen said.

Another factor that has led to the success of women in IT is the flexibility

of education requirements for IT jobs. Unlike in scientific disciplines,

there are no strict requirements for advanced degrees in the IT field. "In

the sciences, you're going to have some significant hurdles because you've

got to have that scientific skill set," said Joan Steyaert, deputy associate

administrator for GSA's Office of Information Technology. "But in IT, I

think you can have a more diverse skill set."

It's not only women who say the IT revolution is changing the workplace.

"The government is the best place I have seen for advancement of women in

the workplace," said Commerce Department CIO Roger Baker. "There are just

more women in senior positions here. I don't see ceilings as much as some

level of apparent resistance."

Still Differences

But while resistance to hiring women in federal IT jobs is diminishing,

women still face obstacles to getting ahead. "It's so subtle that it's very

difficult to point a finger," said Valerie Wallick, 52, former deputy CIO

for the Navy who is now vice president for corporate development at Science

Applications International Corp. "But you eventually know it. You know you

are viewed as an anomaly."

Even today, women must take extra steps to prove their worth. Carla

von Bernewitz, 44 — who until February was the CIO at the Defense Logistics

Agency, where she was in charge of supplying $17 billion in goods and services

to Army, Navy and Air Force offices — believes women have to be better than

men to succeed at equivalent jobs.

"Women may have to handle themselves differently and be better prepared,"

said von Bernewitz, now the chief operating officer for information solutions

for Electronic Data Systems Corp.'s northeast region. "Women need to have

statistics and numbers roll off their fingertips and speak with credibility

and facts behind the numbers, know exactly what the dollar amount is or

what the ratio is. Women probably won't get the break of saying, "I'll get

back to you.'"

Gloria Parker, 49, who as CIO at the Department of Housing and Urban

Development is the highest-ranking female IT executive in government, agrees.

"Someone is always thinking, "Hmm. I wonder if she can cut it,'" she said.

"When a woman comes into a top position, she has to build the confidence

that people need to have. She comes in at the bottom in terms of people's

impression. Men, on the other hand, come in with a great impression, and

they have to fall down," said Parker, who spent 17 years as an IBM Corp.

executive before moving to HUD two years ago.

Patty Edfors, a former Justice Department official and now director

of government operations for Baltimore Technologies, a firm that specializes

in wireless security and public-key infrastructure solutions, concurs. "I

was the first female director in the Justice Department that was associated

with information technology. We were the new girls entering the old-boys

network and, believe me, you felt it," she said.

Making New Networks

SAIC's Wallick, who spent 18 months as senior adviser to Year 2000 chief

John Koskinen, said she never made it past the GS-15 level to a more senior

position in part because there was no mentoring system in the Navy. And

with 95 percent of the top positions held by men, it was difficult to even

find another woman to turn to, she said.

Zippora "Zip" Brown, vice president of the E-government Solutions Group

at American Management Systems Inc., sees mentoring as an important part

of women's advancement in government and the private sector. "It comes down

to who you work for. The trick is to find a mentor or a sponsor who will

make their case with management to make it happen," said Brown, who believed

government was more pro-active in promoting women's careers than private

industry when she joined AMS as a programmer 23 years ago.

Women in senior executive positions like NSF's Massaro often make an

effort to mentor younger colleagues but find that even in senior jobs they

need their own network. Executive Women in Government (EWG), a group of

about 250 women, tries to serve as such an outlet by promoting education,

networking and mentoring.

EWG president-elect Paula Lettice uses the organization to make contacts

in federal agen-cies who might be able to help her when she is looking for

partners. Lettice, managing director for budget and planning at the State

Department, said the group offers workshops and informational sessions,

as well as networking opportunities and speaker luncheons.

Military Experience

One place that women have made clear inroads is at the Defense Department,

where everyone — from foot soldiers in the field to military commanders

in the war room — must have computer skills. Indeed, the proportion of women

in high-tech jobs is rising even as government shrinks.

Joanne Arnette, 49, DLA's current CIO, went to work at 28 as an Army

intern after her children were born, and she's been moving up the ladder

ever since. "I certainly have felt the glass ceiling at times was there,

but just about the time I needed to get a crack in it, I have burst through,"

said Arnette. "Government is one of the very best places for women. They

really take equal opportunity seriously, and they mean it."

While Arnette said at times she has seen military men block the career

paths of women, "the old-boy network is not totally overwhelming anymore,"

she said. "It is being left behind by a new generation of open-minded military

leaders. It's an evolutionary process, not a revolutionary process."

Entry-Level Attention

Barriers to women entering upper echelons of IT management may be coming

down, but some of the most critical people in government organizations — secretarial and administrative staff — risk getting left behind unless they

are trained and mentored in IT jobs, observers say.

In Bajcsy's NSF office, for example, most of the people responsible

for guiding proposals and contracts through the bureaucratic checks are

women. But their importance is not reflected in the opportunities given

to them. "As the sophistication of the IT gets higher, the expectations

of these administrative support people [are] higher," Bajcsy said. "But

if they don't grow as the technology grows, they are sort of stuck in the

same position."

Flexibility is the key to creating avenues into the IT work force, Morella

said. "Bill Gates didn't get through college," she said. "We do have to

examine desire, commitment and ability and not be so rigid with requirements

that they become barriers. I think we need to start early and get them interested."

NEXT STORY: Pentagon to outsource network ops

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