Women have climbed the career ladder in government and achieved success through various strategies, from negotiation skills to networking and mentoring, but there’s still further to go. Female Federal leaders discussed the obstacles women face in achieving success, and the best practices to achieve success in the workplace, on July 14 during a Women in Leadership Forum hosted by the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council.

Panelists at the event said there are common barriers faced by many women in the workplace, including lack of workplace flexibility and work-life balance, socially taught behaviors, and reinforced biases within agencies.

“Particularly for work-life balance, we need to remember to draw boundaries between work time and personal life. And for leaders, they need to expand this practice on to the teams they manage,” said Barbara Morton, deputy chief veteran experience officer at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Women, in particular, Morton added, should lean on those around them for support if they need it.

Panelists also agreed that what holds women back sometimes is caring about other’s perceptions of them, which can have a paralyzing effect. Therefore, women need to move past that, ask for what they want with confidence, and be prepared to get it.

“Women are much more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome, and women need to move away from this idea of needing to be perfect and checking all the boxes,” said Ann Dunkin, CIO at the Department of Energy. Women need to shift from a focus on what they do not know, to a focus on their strengths and what they do know, Dunkin added.

However, while asking for what you want with confidence is essential, it’s equally important for organizations to readjust how they respond to women when attempting to promote organizational changes or personal and professional changes. Ultimately, according to Dunkin, agencies that either consciously or subconsciously reinforce biases must abandon those biases.

“Yes, we need to have these conversations as women. But we can’t do it alone. We need men to step in, listen, and help,” said Dunkin.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.