Welles: Diversity rules

A diverse workforce helps an organization ensure that it develops fresh ideas

At a time when information technology jobs and salaries are on the upswing, the representation of women and most minorities continues to fall. A report by the IT Association of America found that the percentage of women in the IT workforce declined from 41 percent in 1996 to 32.4 percent in

2004. Blacks constituted 9.1 percent of the IT workforce in 1996 but only 8.3 percent in 2004.

In the government, according to Office of Personnel Management data, women and minorities did a little better, constituting 39.2 percent of the federal IT workforce at the GS-9 to GS-15 levels in 2004. The percentage of blacks in federal IT occupations at those grade levels was 16.3 percent in 2004.

"The technologies that surround us are as diverse as the people who use them," said Linda Gooden, president of Lockheed Martin Information Technology and one of the few black women in an IT leadership role. Speaking at the ITAA's Diversity Summit last month, she compared the need to improve diversity in hiring with the growing demand for customized, personalized technology.

"We need diversity in ideas and diversity in people who develop ideas," she said.

Gooden's own career benefited from strong mentors. Her formula for success: "Look at how you can be part of moving the agenda forward, and find a mentor."

According to Marguerete Luter, president-elect of Women in Technology (WIT), access to networking and mentoring opportunities are the keys to improving diversity. But today, even that might not be enough. She suggests sponsoring individuals in the workplace.

By sponsorship, she means providing active support to new hires to help them develop their careers. It can also mean providing tips and encouragement to potential candidates at the college level.

WIT provides a type of sponsorship for women through a five-month mentor/ protégé program. In recent examples, the mentorship program helped an Air Force officer make the transition to the private sector and helped an IT specialist from industry move into government.

Protégés are matched with four mentors during a five-month period, meeting once a month for two and a half hours. Applications for the next session, which starts in January, are now available.

Recognizing employees also contributes to retaining minorities and women and helps new employees feel like they are part of the team. Several federal agencies also have networking groups for minorities and women. Sharing experiences and successes are important ways to support and recognize employees who might feel like outsiders.

So when it comes to diversity in the workplace, you can help both newly hired and experienced minority teammates "feel the love," as they say in the private sector. Through mentoring and working together, we can keep skilled people growing in their jobs. n

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.