Viewpoint: Building the ranks of women in IT

5 strategies for state and local agencies to encourage more women to join the IT workforce and remain in it for the long-term.

By Regina Kunkle

In 2011, women comprised 57 percent of the U.S. professional workforce but held only 25 percent of the jobs in professional computing occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the State and local level, the scarcity of women in the workforce is equally acute: there were 540,000 fewer women in state and local jobs in 2011 than there were in 2007, as women have been hit hardest by budget cuts and job losses relative to male counterparts.   

National, state and local efforts to boost the ranks of women in the IT workforce and leadership positions have been well chronicled, and while much work remains to be done there are promising signals. For decision makers at the state, city and county level State and local government leaders seeking to strengthen their IT capabilities through a more balanced workforce can use a number of key strategies to encourage more women to join the IT workforce and remain in it for the long-term.

Grow from within: Internships are a win-win for the government employer and the intern. But it can be very time consuming to silo each intern as its own process. Instead, government offices should consider building an internship program that includes multiple interns at a time. This approach will establish a sustainable mechanism to attract the best and brightest female IT professionals and communicate there is a path for them beyond interning.

Recognize imbalance between supply and demand: One path for women interested in IT who may not have an IT-related degree – yet – is to place them in other areas of the business with regular exposure to technology.  For example, candidates (female and male) interested in technology could start in IT help desk positions as a way to quickly learn the IT challenges being faced and grow more comfortable with technology and how it is being applied at their organization.

Build flexibility into work schedules: Historically, government has trailed the private sector in building flexibility into the work structure. While the traditional workday “works” for many women – and men – some women are in fact juggling many responsibilities and would prefer a more flexible work schedule. State and local agencies should recognize this, identify positions that reflect the increasingly mobile workforce, and then appeal to women IT candidates who want full-time benefits but might prefer to work over weekends or at night. 

Bust the myths: Stories that illustrate state and local government IT professionals’ work often remain hidden from women in technology considering future employment, and thus prospective candidates are left to wrongly assume the private sector will provide a more challenging, dynamic career in information technology.

While advertising budgets are typically not feasible for cash-strapped governments, many accessible public relations strategies can be employed. Agencies can work with local media to showcase technology projects impacting the community or country, and leverage social media channels to more directly engage with IT professionals most interested in the work being done.

Encourage mentoring and networking: Anecdotally, many believe women lack the quantity and quality of networking opportunities relative to their male counterparts. This is particularly true with technology, which has for years been a male-dominated field and culture that females would often have to adapt to.

By developing networking and mentoring programs specifically geared to women interested in IT, state and local government organizations demonstrate a commitment to a balanced workforce and generate a comfort level that will make that critical first step easier for women.

Creating an in-demand employment destination for women with IT expertise or those interested in this field cannot be achieved by simply trying to achieve a number or percentage target. Instead, efforts must be more strategic, meaningful and sustainable in order to encourage more women to pursue careers in IT at state and local governments.

Regina Kunkle is Vice President of State and Local Government, Higher Education at NetApp, a  global provider of innovative data and storage management solutions. 

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