L.A. County Takes a Shot at Correcting IT’s Gender Imbalance

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors has passed a Women in Technology Hiring Initiative that will connect at-risk and disconnected youth ages 14-24 with IT mentors and training to bolster its entry-level IT personnel.

by / January 15, 2020
Shutterstock/Mark Agnor

Officials in Los Angeles County are making a substantial push to train and recruit more women into the gov tech workforce with the help of a new directive passed by the Board of Supervisors.  

The Women in Tech (WIT) hiring initiative seeks to rectify the gender imbalance within the large regional government. The directive, passed at the final board meeting of 2019, seeks to mentor and encourage women between the ages of 14 and 24 to pursue career paths in government IT work. 

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who represents the region's third district, submitted the motion for consideration by the board.

“There is a serious lack of women in computer tech jobs, which are high-paying and very much in-demand,” Kuehl wrote in a statement to Government Technology. “Even the County, an entity that is working hard to correct gender imbalances, has a shortage of women in information technology roles, particularly in strategically important IT positions. We can and must do better.”

ESTABLISHING A PERSONNEL PIPELINE

A main piece in Kuehl’s plan is to expand the existing Countywide Youth Bridges Program (CYBP), which exposes at-risk and disconnected youth to careers within county government through mentorship, workshops and training.

Murtaza Masood, the assistant director of county’s Department of Human Resources, explained that the program currently assigns applicants to a 120-hour internship in the administrative or general job field, but the motion directs he and his staff to augment available postings to include software programing, Web development, artificial intelligence and network security communication. Human resources will also review the minimum qualifications for entry-level IT positions to ease the transition from internships to full-time roles.

A strategy suggested in the board’s agenda item details a cohort model, where all participants would attend the same IT “boot camp” together and continue to meet for further education and training. Masood said this could take the form of a “post-high school, skill-building opportunity,” but the exact approach will be shaped over the next few months.

He said the WIT employee group, led by the county’s five women CIOs, will aid in drafting the execution plan that is slated for presentation in April. County staff have 120 days to report back to the Board of Supervisors with an implementation plan, a budget and position authority needs.

“They’ve been working as a key expert panel to inform some of these strategies and will continue to be a part of the execution,” Masood said. “We are hitting the ground running. I think strategically the challenge we face is the recruitment challenge, which I think is common across public-sector and private-sector IT organizations is how do you recruit, retain and develop that talent and establish a consistent, sustainable pipeline that bridges that gender gap in IT for professional opportunities and positions.”

INSPIRING THROUGH EXPERIENCE

Karen Loquet, the county’s assistant auditor controller and CIO of that department, leads the WIT employee group and said the 10-year age span of the motion will allow her and her staff to reach young women before their interest in STEM and IT diminishes in their late teen years.

“[The early teen years] is where you see the drop off and the separation from the girls and boys,” Loquet said. “The boys go on to study math and sciences and do the STEM courses and the girls go and do something else, they might do English, they might do something else, but it isn’t STEM.”

Her view on training potential recruits is to start with explaining the pathways for IT professionals at the county. She and her staff will share their personal career stories to relay what is possible to those enrolled in the program.

Loquet said she started at the county with a high school diploma and soon realized that a bachelor’s degree would increase her options for upward mobility. She attended night school to earn her degree, which opened opportunities to pursue a career in IT.

From her perspective, highlighting all of the options for potential IT professionals is an important responsibility to have.

“I lived it, so I am an example of what is possible,” Loquet said.

“This to me is a bit of a labor of love because I am a woman, I am a woman in technology and I am very, very passionate about the fact that we need to raise that awareness within L.A. County,” Loquet said. “I have been for years working with predominantly men. I have been for several years the only woman at the table and I would love to see that change.”

Patrick Groves Staff Writer

Patrick Groves is a staff writer for Government Technology. Previously, he worked for five years at newspapers in Washington state, Idaho, Florida and Northern California. He has a Bachelor’s degree in communication from Washington State University and lives in Northern California.

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