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Earlier this year, former Air Force CIO Lauren Knausenberger wrote a LinkedIn post about a striking moment when the secretary of the Department of the Air Force (DAF) realized all his top cyber/IT advisors were women.

The poignant photo includes Air Force heavyweights such Wanda Jones-Heath, who serves as the Principal Cyber Advisor for the DAF, and Lt. Gen. Leah Lauderback, who serves as the deputy chief of staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Cyber Effects Operations at the U.S. Air Force.

Women continue to lead more IT and cyber projects throughout the Department of Defense (DoD) and Defense Industrial Base (DIB).

Lily Zeleke, for example, is the DoD’s deputy CIO for Information Enterprise, providing oversight, policy guidance, and digital expertise for infrastructure initiatives driving toward the objectives of digital modernization. One of her big projects is helping to manage the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC) portfolio.

Then there are innovators such as the Army Enterprise Cloud Management Agency (ECMA) Cloud Enablement Chief Pushparani Jayapal and Data & Software Services Chief Lauren Pavlik, and Army Software Factory CISO Angelica Phaneuf.

Now more than ever, women are leading defense tech modernization as IT becomes vital to national security. The Women in Defense National Conference on Sept. 26, hosted by the National Defense Industry Association (NDIA), is instrumental to promoting and advancing women in defense tech leadership.

In a recent fireside chat with me, NDIA Women in Defense (WID) Executive Director Rachel McCaffrey said she hopes someday we won’t need a special affiliate for women in the defense workforce.

“But for right now, there's still a lot of bias that can be out there that can make it hard for women to achieve the objectives they have set for themselves,” she said. “And so WID’s job is to identify barriers to women being able to move into jobs that they want or get promoted where they want [and] identify those barriers, help knock them down, [and] give women the tools they need in order to be successful so that we have a workforce that is cognitively diverse. Our workforce is one of our strategic advantages.”

Likewise, Maximus relies on women to lead some of its biggest projects serving the federal government. MaryAnn Monroe, vice president for total experience, has provided the U.S. Air Force with customer experience best practices and recommendations on how to implement a human-centered design approach to customer service.

Kathleen Featheringham, vice president of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), combats AI bias in data sets and processes, working with agencies on how to leverage these advanced technologies in a responsible way. As Maximus grows in the defense tech space, we need more women to bring new ideas to the table and lead DoD modernization efforts.

DoD faces unprecedented IT and cybersecurity challenges supporting missions given the state of world affairs. Maximus is uniquely positioned to address these challenges not by offering fancy new gadgets but by strategically integrating existing solutions and emerging technologies to match DoD mission needs and achieve operational excellence. In that regard, Maximus is a nontraditional business partner.

Our approach helped Army Materiel Command migrate databases, servers, and applications with zero downtime. We also helped the Defense Health Agency’s Web and Mobile Technology program office develop a deployment readiness app for servicewomen, which helped servicewomen prepare for deployment without losing duty days.

Women are key to moving our business forward. They play a strategic role in helping Maximus enable innovation for federal agencies and build upon our successes at the DoD. 50% of Maximus’ executive leadership are women, and we’re excited about opportunities for women to lead on the defense team.

Through Women in Defense, NDIA provides an incredible platform for women to network and get involved to support the mission with mission-oriented industry partners. The national conference on Sept. 26 has an amazing lineup of speakers, but tickets are going fast. I hope to see you there.