As a female executive, Amazon Web Services public sector vice president Teresa Carlson is outnumbered. Especially in the technology field.
Carlson, who previously served as vice president of federal government business at Microsoft, said she surprisingly hasn’t encountered too many challenges in her 16 years in the technology industry. Instead of fixating on the obstacles for women in tech, Carlson said she hopes more women will focus on how their unique skills could make them competitive in the field.
At this year’s FOSE conference in Washington — an annual federal contracting expo drawing executives from the country’s largest tech companies — Carlson and a handful of other female leaders from the public and private sectors plan to discuss the employment outlook for women in technology; their panel is called “Women Leaders in Technology: Opportunities and Top Issues from IT Leaders.”
According FOSE, in the United States, women held only 25 percent of computing occupations in 2013,citing data from the AFL-CIO. Women’s employment growth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs has slowed, according to a Census Bureau report. In 2011, women held 27 percent of computer jobs.
Despite the statistics, Carlson said she often speaks to women at universities who are interested in coding and development. Framing technology jobs differently — emphasizing the group-work aspects of coding, for instance — could attract more of them to the field, she said.
“Women and young girls are very social. They like problem solving. Information technology can really allow them to come together, crowd source, solve problems together and take on world issues. I believe that’s going to be a huge driver of more women moving into an IT career,” Carlson said.
Lisa Schlosser, the Office of Management and Budget’s deputy associate administrator for the Office of E-Government and Information Technology, noted that women are making progress in the public sector: The federal government has at least eight female chief information officers, and the majority of the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity division is female, she said.
But, she said, “We still have a long way to go. And if I look in general at the landscape, you’re still around 14 percent of top corporate executive jobs held by women.”
And the gender-pay gap still persists, she said.
“As a society, we have to start this new paradigm where we start early with girls in schools — all the way from toddlers on up — and engage them and get them excited [about] the sciences, in technology, in math, in leadership programs. I think you see a lot of girls not wanting to step up.”
She said it is important to encourage girls to network with powerful women, and make strong professional connections. “Historically, I think men have done a great job in building relationships, in networking, from the time they’re young throughout their career.”
The public and private sectors face the same problems attracting women to technology fields, Schlosser said, and for each, the solutions are the same.
“We’re trying to put in place strategic programs to get more kids in general involved with [science, technology, engineering and math], and then encourage women to do that. I think that will open doors within the government and the private sector.”
Also scheduled to speak on the panel are NSA Director of the Information Assurance Directorate Debora Plunkett, Small Business Administration Chief Information Officer and Chief Privacy Officer Renee Macklin, and Experian President of Public Sector Business Barbara Rivera. Morris Jones, anchor and host of weekly ABC television show Government Matters, will moderate. FOSE 2014 runs Tuesday through Thursday of this week at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.