Government Women In Technology
Government Women in Technology group continues to grow
It’s been almost one year since Anushree “Anu” Bag’s vision for a collaborative professional group that would allow women in technological careers to network, share their personal experiences, and forge relationships finally came to fruition.
“I was interested in joining a women’s group at the state,” she reflected. “When I didn’t find one, I talked to several colleagues to see if there would be any interest in creating one. When I found significant interest, I just decided to create one.”
She later established a charter and a board of directors and today Government Women in Technology (GWIT) is the only affinity group approved and recognized by the state of Indiana.
The first GWIT summit took place March 9, 2020. At the time, the group consisted of only nine members, all of whom were part of the Indiana Office of Technology (IOT). Bag serves as executive director of IOT’s Risk and Compliance division.
It was the start of something she hoped would grow and flourish, but in less than a year, membership has increased more than tenfold and the group’s footprint has expanded to include monthly meetings, a LinkedIn page, and a SharePoint site teeming with helpful resources. And that’s clearly just the beginning.
Reaching the summit
The first annual GWIT summit will take place March 5 and will now be offered to 115 women representing two dozen different state of Indiana agencies, and will now feature some highly visible leaders, such the lieutenant governor, the state Chief Information Officer, agency heads from the Indiana Department of Child Services, Family and Social Services Administration, and Indiana Department of Health, “as well as noteworthy speakers of national repute,” Anu noted. The growth of GWIT has been a dream come true for Anu who is well aware of how women are underrepresented in technological careers in the United States.
Although, according to the US Department of Labor Women’s Bureau, women account for nearly half of the workforce in this country, recent data from The National Center for Women & Informational Technology found they make up only around 25 percent of people who perform tech jobs-- careers such as engineer, data scientist, web and software developer, or information technology specialist—to name only a few. Within the state of Indiana, only about 17 percent of Chief Information Officers are women.
Moreover, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) jobs are expected to grow at more than twice the rate of other careers within the next decade. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM careers are anticipated to grow by nearly 8.5 percent by 2029. Meanwhile, the number of non-STEM occupations are expected to increase by only 3.4 percent in the same time span.
Bag wants to help change the disparity in the workforce of these important fields by empowering and encouraging current and future women working in—or pursuing work in—tech jobs every step of the way. She believes one of the best ways to do that is to bring those women together to learn from one another, share their experiences, and grow their careers.
At its heart, that is GWIT’s main purpose, and it’s quickly gained a following among the many talented women working in technology for the state of Indiana.
Much of the task of getting the word out about the still relatively-new group has fallen to Devan Penn, an information specialist with IOT communications. Devan is also GWIT Communications Chair
“As soon as I signed up to be a part of this group, Anu asked me to become Communications Chair,” said Penn. “Immediately. I felt so honored that she chose me to lead all communications for this all-woman-professional-networking group.”
Penn’s background is in journalism and by taking on this role with the fledgling group, her talents were being utilized in ways that will be beneficial to her as well as to the group at large.
And that’s a key element of GWIT: allowing the members to expand on what they already know while opening the door to new possibilities. Devan, for example, got her start with the state of Indiana working for the House of Representatives in 2015. She moved to IOT in 2018, though it was admittedly uncharted territory for her in the beginning.
“I didn’t know much about IOT when I first began, but have learned so much in the few short years I’ve been here,” Penn said. “I thoroughly enjoy writing about technical, complicated things and turning them into something that an individual with no IT experience can understand.”
That’s an important skill in a field overflowing with disparate job opportunities. But no matter their background or level of expertise, state employees and staff consultants are welcome to join. More memberships will open following the March 5 summit.
Bag has more than two decades of experience in her field. She earned a Bachelor’s degree from Jadavpur University in India and later obtained her Master’s from The University of Toledo, Ohio. Both were for electrical engineering.
She and many GWIT members know the unique challenges women face working in traditionally male-dominated fields. The ever-growing list of members, however, believes that women are making significant progress and finding success in the myriad technological jobs available today even if their careers began in other fields.
Meaghan Fukunaga, deputy director of Electronic Records for the Indiana Archives and Records Administration, previously worked in school and public libraries. Technological enhancements in recordkeeping meant that she would need to adapt to a changing landscape in her field.
“The records management process was becoming increasingly digital as I entered it, and I learned in order to stay in the field,” she explained. “I still don’t feel very technical most of the time, but in order to succeed I’ve tried to expand my technological knowledge through hands-on experience as much as I can.”
Fukunaga, who serves as GWIT Membership Committee Chair, said the adaptation process is ongoing as technology changes rapidly. Her hands-on approach has served her well, and she believes a forward-thinking outlook coupled with necessary assertiveness will benefit others in her vocation.
“Ask lots of questions,” she said of advice she’d offer to women interested in pursuing a career in her field. “Don’t be afraid if you don’t know something or understand it. The best way forward is to learn more, be curious, and not let anyone stifle that.”
Likewise, Cheri Walker-Owens didn’t initially have her sights set on a tech career.
“I originally was a Criminal Justice major with a concentration in Law Enforcement in college, but mid-way through my advisor asked me if I was interested in the new Cyber Security concentration the university had implemented,” she recalled. “I grew up using computers and was an avid video gamer, so I decided to see if I liked it and it stuck.”
Today, Cheri works for IOT and serves as STEMpowerment Committee Chair for GWIT.
Walker-Owens said the group is helping her gain confidence and forge strong working relationships with her colleagues. Being involved in GWIT has also helped her gain leadership skills.
“I’m in the process of changing the way I think and developing my confidence in my professional skills,” said Cheri. “GWIT has helped immensely in that aspect.”
Amanda O’Daniel is another GWIT member who has risen to the challenge of a changing work landscape. An IOT systems analyst for agency’s Geographic Information Office who also serves as GWIT Programs Committee Chair, O’Daniel’s previous work role required her to make maps for foreign investment using PhotoShop, which turned out to be a chore. Like Walker-Owens and Fukunaga, she found herself needing to adapt to technological changes in her line of work.
“I knew there had to be a better way,” she said of the clunky, unintuitive map-making process. “I began by taking classes in GIS and that opened up incredible opportunities to utilize the GIS technology in many aspects of my work.”
“By lifting each other, we all rise”
Empowering women is a major tenet of GWIT, whose members believe in the adage “by lifting each other, we all rise.” To that end, the group members are ceaselessly supportive of one another and that remains one of GWIT’s greatest strengths.
“This forum has shown me that creating a space for women in technology to share and learn from each other, in a very professional and relatable space, can change our paths,” said Megan Compton, a GWIT board member who also works for IOT GIS. “I appreciate the opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors where we help shape the content to address the important topics and generate a platform for such growth and honest connection. This has impacted my career by allowing me to expand beyond our team and into the broader technology space and reformed my opinions of what it means to be a leader. I appreciate this forum, its members, and the growth that lies ahead of us.”
“This is an amazing organization of women who will support you and offer advice, joy, and wisdom,” added O’Daniel.
The positive reception has bolstered the group and made it an experience that has allowed the group members to learn about one another through their own storytelling. The result has been a new level of understanding of one another on a professional as well as a personal level.
“Being a woman in IT comes with many challenges and having a forum within GWIT to share my experiences is helpful on so many levels,” remarked Elaine Kan, deputy/assistant IT director for IOT-Enterprise Shared Services, who also serves on the GWIT Board of Directors. “Storytelling resonates with our members and has a meaningful impact on our collective consciousness by giving us the opportunity to reflect and strategize. GWIT has been an excellent resource for me on a professional and personal level especially serving on the Board of Directors. It has been a great way to expand my professional network, visibility, and has provided opportunities to collaborate with people outside of my normal circle.”
The old adage, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” certainly applies here, and there is plenty of reason to believe that this proverbial ocean is moving group members forward.
“GWIT is a safe and trusted space to discuss challenges and opportunities in technology careers in state government,” Anu Bag said. “It is also a positive space, where challenges are listened to and acknowledged, but the focus is on problem solving and discussing strategies to carve a path forward. Women who join GWIT can access high quality programming at no cost. GWIT also offers professional mentoring and access to tools and resources. Overall GWIT uses many techniques for empowerment, enablement, and elevation of capable women in technology. Both professional and personal relationships have grown through GWIT.”
Room to grow
As GWIT expands to include more members, Bag is hopeful the program itself can continue to grow.
“I would love to see GWIT become a force not only within state government, but also in the larger Indiana tech community,” she said. “We have started providing technology mentorship to high school students and adult women looking to reenter the workforce and/or switch to technology careers- it would be wonderful to be able to make additional impact by offering technology scholarships to deserving women.”
Beyond that, Anu dreams of seeing GWIT expand to the national level. She spoke at national innovation forum hosted by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) in December 2020. That group was compelled to follow in Anu’s footsteps.
“NASCIO has since formed their own group of women in technology and called our program an inspiration,” she said. “My dream would be to have several chapters of GWIT, across other state governments.”
Bag’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed outside of the state of Indiana, either. She’s nominated for a Community Impact Award from TechPoint. The award recognizes “individuals and organizations that have gone above and beyond to support the advancement of Indiana’s tech community.”
Story by Brent Brown, Indiana State Personnel Department