Women across the Federal IT landscape are taking the reins in their leadership roles and getting big stuff done.

During GovCIO’s Women Tech Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., this week, officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) highlighted some projects they are spearheading at their agencies to make an impact on the cyber workforce, innovation, and diversity and inclusion.

VA Stands up Personal Pronoun Project

At the VA’s Office of Information and Technology (OIT), Chief Strategy Officer Nicole Gilbride stood up a personal pronoun project over the last year to help the agency’s LGBTQIA+ community feel safer.

Gilbride said that from a technology standpoint, it was actually pretty impressive. Her team at OIT was able to deploy a pilot in less than 30 days, and in just 60 days they went from an idea to a pilot to a solution.

Over 25,000 employees across the agency have adopted their pronouns – meaning they have the gender they identify with next to their name on Outlook, Teams, or other applications the VA utilizes. Gilbride was able to set a national standard for what this should look like – a policy the VA didn’t have before.

Gilbride said that her team was able to automate the personal pronoun project in just six months so that it’s no longer a burden to the tech staff.

VA OIT is now in the fourth phase of the personal pronoun project. Gilbride explained that this final phase involves helping other agencies adopt this same process through a “helper kit.”

“[It] was really groundbreaking for the Federal space,” Gilbride said. “It’s also just a reminder that if you’ve got a great idea, find somebody else who can help you champion it, find a way to make it work.”

Digital Transformation Team at FDA Focuses on Bolstering Tech Workforce

The executive officer at FDA’s Office of Digital Transformation highlighted two projects her office is spearheading to not only modernize the way her agency hires technology experts, but also continue to transform their existing cyber workforce.

Jessica Berrellez said Project Elixir is a “monumental shift” in how the FDA is hiring and paying its technology workforce.

“We are shifting to a new hiring authority that will give us direct hiring capabilities as well as a new pay structure,” Berrellez said. “This is really going to help to give us more of a competitive advantage in hiring and retaining the top tech talent that we need to drive all of our modernization work forward.”

She continued, adding, “This is going to be a pretty historic change for us as we action it over the next couple months and years.”

Berrellez also said her team is working on project UpTech, which aims to transform how the FDA trains and upskills its existing tech workforce.

“This is a massive undertaking to transform how we train and upskill and new-skill and re-skill our technical workforce to really help us keep our expertise and our capabilities at pace with all of the rapid changes in our field,” she said.

FBI Cyber Chief Recruiting More Women

The deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, Cynthia Kaiser, said that cyber threats are “certainly not a threat we’re going to beat by hiring cookie-cutter employees with all the same backgrounds and experiences.”

“There’s no mold for a cyber professional because there’s no mold for the challenges that we currently, and will in the future, have to face,” Kaiser said.

She highlighted the FBI’s new initiative, the 30×30 Pledge – which has a goal to have women make up 30 percent of the nation’s law enforcement by 2030.

“We have about 38,000 employees, and I can assure you that means there is 38,000 unique backgrounds, skills, and experiences that we’re looking to leverage to counter the threats of today and tomorrow,” Kaiser said. “We know diversity – especially the actual inclusion and respect for diversity – makes our community safer.”

Health Equity Means Leveraging Tech at CMS

Andrea Fletcher, the executive director of the digital service at CMS, highlighted the ways her team is leveraging technology to ensure health equity – especially among pregnant women.

Fletcher said CMS is collecting a lot of data and mapping that data to create a medical disparity tool.

“We have a lot of work to do to ensure that women are being treated equally and fairly in that process,” Fletcher said. “A lot of what we’ve been up to lately is collecting data, because if we don’t standardize and collect the data, we don’t know what the problems are to solve.”

“We have a medical disparities mapping tool where we’re actually mapping and opening up that data to where the problems are,” she said.

Fletcher also said her team has been working towards digital equity by ensuring that the websites and technological tools that CMS deploys are accessible for the public.

“We do a lot of user testing, and making sure that our user testing includes different people and is representative of the people that we serve,” she said.

Read More About
More Topics
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.