Kay Ely, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, GSA’s IT Category Office
For most of the last year, Kay Ely held two jobs in the GSA Federal Acquisition Service’sOffice of Information Technology Category. In addition to heading the IT Schedule 70 program, a job she’s held for the past six years, she was also promoted to be deputy assistant commissioner for ITC. “I serve very much like a chief operating officer,” she said.
During that time, she also led IT Schedule 70 through some tremendous changes, making it easier and faster for smaller, younger, innovative companies to do business with the the federal government. “We listened to ur customers, we listened to industry, and we heard a lot about things that needed to be improved, things that needed to be different, and we really took that to heart and made some very significant changes in the program,” she said. And now that she’s focused full-time on her deputy assistant commissioner position, Ely said, “it looks like 2017 is going to be another great year.”
Can you talk about the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career? How did you conquer that challenge?
I think the biggest challenge I faced as a woman in my career is really being a single parent to three very young children while I was working at the Pentagon. The work-life balance tools that we have in place now … they just weren’t there back in the early ‘90s. So it was such a struggle to continue in my career to find that work-life balance and at the same time be committee to my children and my family. I think I ended up over time learning how to give myself some space and grace, and I think that has been a tremendous gift. Because now that my children are all grown, it was sort of the ‘don’t sweat the small stuff, and give yourself some space and grace’ has really paid dividends.
What would you say to young women who are thinking about a career in technology or related fields, or just starting out in their careers? What’s the best advice you could offer for success?
One that comes to my mind most often is I would just say go for it. Completely get out of your thinking some of the obstacles we hear, especially for women in the technology field about the glass ceiling. Throughout my career I’ve certainly heard about that and read about it, but it’s never affected me. So I would just tell anybody to take that out of your thinking.
Who/what inspired you to get into your field?
At the Pentagon, one of my customers was the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA. And it’s interesting, because I can’t think of any specifics, but I was blown away with some of the conversation and discussion as they were looking at the very early stages of what was the internet. So I think that just really inspired me. And the IT journey that’s continue over the 30 years has just been amazing. We’re really at the cusp of just the explosion of technology.
Why is it important to you to empower women and other minorities to join more technical and technology-related fields?
I think it’s so incredibly important because that is our future. To this day I still go to meetings that are high-level discussions about so many important things and I may be the only woman in the meeting. And I think what we’re missing there is just the incredible diversity and thought that you get, not only from women but other minorities as well. And I think we really need to embrace diversity in the workplace to ensure we’re getting all those different thoughts.