According to a recent U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report, women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) account for only 29 percent of the STEM Federal workforce.

Christine Finnelle and Nicole Willis are a part of that one-third. These two women have fought against all odds to earn their senior positions in the public sector and grab a seat at the table that is often jam-packed with their male counterparts – 47,167 to be exact.

Despite this daunting figure, Finnelle – the director of the Enterprise Architecture Division at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – is optimistic that more women, and diversity in general, will be included when it comes to the future of Fed IT.

“It’s a lot better now than it used to be 20 or 30 years ago,” Finnelle said during a Jan. 18 webinar hosted by AFFIRM.

“Somewhere between 2010 and 2015 I really saw a shift in how the workforce culture embraced [diversity and inclusion],” she said, adding, “It’s a great time to be a woman in Federal IT; it’s a much more inclusive environment.”

Willis – the chief technology officer at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General – has valued her nearly two years in the leadership position by supporting the agency in its transformation and innovation efforts.

But her 23 years as a woman in government tech hasn’t come without its hardships.

Willis said that the biggest barrier she still faces today is the unconscious bias that surrounds women in STEM.

“There are a lot of times where I’ve been the only woman in the room,” Willis said. “I really had to find my voice, take a seat at the table, and lean in and understand the value that I can provide as a woman. That different perspective is very valuable to have.”

She continued, “The government is evolving.”

Because these two tech leaders know what it’s like firsthand to not only be a woman in STEM, but also a woman in the Federal workforce, they make active efforts to attract and retain diverse talent to both of their agencies.

Finnelle highlighted that DHS offers fully remote work options so mothers can have more flexibility to take care of their children or women can go back to school and earn another degree.

“There are a lot of things that we’ve already overcome in the workplace that let women have a much better work-life balance,” Finnelle said.

“There are a lot of little things that add up to a bigger culture footprint that creates that place that people want to work,” she said. “People want to work where they can make a difference, and where they feel included.”

Finnelle said, “Leadership in IT in the Federal space is all about empowering your folks to be the best them that they can be.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan