Summit: IT workforce must be diversified

Federal IT contractors share best practices and ways to improve opportunities for women and minorities.

Major federal IT contractors came together at the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) Diversity Summit on Wednesday to share best practices and focus on ways to improve opportunities for women and minorities.

The half-day meeting revealed approaches and recommendations that area companies are taking to overcome the growing gender and minority gap in IT workforces, which was highlighted in ITAA’s June diversity survey.

“The technologies that surround us are as diverse as the people who use them,” said Linda Gooden, president of Lockheed Information Technology, noting that the market is driving diversity and a need for customized, personalized technology. “Success belongs to those organizations that embrace diversity. It goes beyond employment to a business issue,” she said.

Lockheed recently instituted a “DMMI,” or diversity maturity model integration to measure progress, based on the capability maturity model integration (CMMI) of Carnegie Mellon that is a measure used for IT. Noting that her own career development benefited from strong mentors, Gooden emphasized the importance of mentorship.

“We need diversity in ideas and diversity in people who develop ideas,” she said. She urged the audience to look at “how you can be part of moving the agenda forward, and find a mentor.”

Lockheed’s blue bracelets imprinted with the word “inclusion” were distributed at the summit. The bracelets reportedly are especially popular at college recruitment fairs.

Speakers at the event saw a connection between diversity and a successful IT industry. Karen Penn, SAIC vice president for human resources and director of corporate diversity, said “diversity doesn’t mean just EEO requirements. It’s built upon compliance but it also means leveraging skills of the workforce to competitive advantage.”

While IT hiring and compensation are on the rise in the industry, the percent of women and minorities in the IT workforce is declining. “The workforce gap is growing,” said ITAA President Harris Miller at time when the United States is now sixth in the world in its focus on IT. “We must tap women and minorities to be globally competitive,” he said.

Among barriers to entry, he cited social stereotypes, missing role models, unappealing perceptions of the IT world, and diminishing interest in math and science.

Panelists also pointed to the problems of backlogged security clearances and the need to educate candidates about IT positions early to avoid life experiences that can impact clearances, such as drug use or even a minor arrest record. College students need to find out what “clearable” means, and consider internships in federal agencies after their sophomore year.