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[OP-ED] White House Innovation Fellows: Where Are the Women?

BY Merici Vinton | Friday, August 24 2012

Merici Vinton is a digital government meets open data type. Most recently, Merici co-founded the tech team for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and led the launch of She now lives in London.

On Thursday, the White House announced their new Presidential Innovation fellows and with only 2 of the 18 fellows women it left me wondering, where are the women? Last I checked, in the United States, women make up 50.9% of the population, 43.2% of the workforce, 25% of the technical workforce … and yet only 11% of the Presidential Fellows are women. We can sit and do math all day (heck, I would be thrilled if even 6 of the 18 were women — but 6 is a far cry from 2), but in reality, this isn’t where it should be. And honestly, I doubt Todd [Park], Steve [VanRoekel] and Macon [Phillips] are thrilled with these numbers themselves. These are well-intentioned, smart pros who are deeply committed to making government work better. So here are some ideas for recruiting the next group of fellows (assuming there is one, of course :)).

In February the Anita Borg Institute released a report detailing how to recruit and hire women for technical positions. It has some clear, actionable advice for anyone looking for technical positions. Here are a few of my favorite items:

  • Build gender-diverse hiring teams and showcase technical women during the interview process. (Google does this)
  • Require that every open technical position has a viable female candidate. (my favorite)
  • Hold executives and managers accountable for reaching diversity goals and targets.

Read the full report.

See? It's totally possible to move this process in a more diverse direction.

Know what would be awesome? If the White House released the data around its fellows hiring - i.e.: how many women applied? How many interviewed? What other demographic data did you collect? Once you have the data, you can start benchmarking and setting metrics for greater diversity next year. Know what would be even more awesome? If their goals surpassed women in tech in the private sector to, let’s say, 33%.

To the new fellows - Congrats! And now a challenge. In addition to helping make government work better (which I am confident you can achieve), spend some time talking to women and people of color about your experience during the fellowship. Be an active recruiter throughout your year and help increase the diversity of the second class of fellows.

Editor's note: A White House spokesman, Phillip Larson, told techPresident yesterday: "The 18 leading private-sector innovators that make up the first class of Presidential Innovation Fellows are from a diverse set of backgrounds with an overwhelming collection of talents and expertise specifically suited to the tasks at hand. The Obama Administration has taken unprecedented steps to attract, retain, and support women and girls as they navigate careers in science and technology, and is dedicated to increasing the participation of women and girls—as well as other underrepresented groups—in those fields.” The full story is here.