Supporting Women's Success in STEM

As we close out Women’s History Month, we sat down with the Office of the Chief Information Officer’s Mary “Beth” Nettles, who serves as the section chief for Mine Safety and Health Administration mission applications. We discussed her experiences working in information technology at the Department of Labor and what advice she has for women interested in pursuing similar careers.

Beth Nettles

How did you get involved in the STEM industry?

In college, I was a biology major, but after marrying a member of the military, I prioritized positions that were flexible with relocation. Early in my career I largely held administrative positions, but eventually transitioned to a new job where there were opportunities to get involved in information technology. My next position was as a computer assistant and that experience qualified me for an IT specialist position here at the department.

What advice do you have for women who are interested in pursuing STEM?

Opportunities come in many forms – it can be a side job, online training, even an extra duty. Take advantage of learning and certification opportunities, even if you have to pay upfront for part of the cost. Think of it as investing in yourself!

What challenges have you experienced working in a male-dominated field and how have you navigated them?

I have been fortunate throughout my career – both before and after entering the IT field – to work with multiple, effective female leaders. The way I approach any challenge is to stay focused on the mission, get the job done, demonstrate competency and most importantly, be professional. Those have been effective tactics in creating a collaborative work environment.

Tell me about your experiences working with other women in leadership at the Department of Labor.

This has been a great place to work and there are many highly competent women working and leading within the IT arena! Here at the department, it is not unusual to see women in senior leadership roles across many topical areas, including mission application support, security, emerging technology, and infrastructure support. I have worked for fantastic women who are knowledgeable, driven professionals committed to delivering IT solutions in support of our mission.

How does OCIO at Labor help support and promote diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) and women in IT?

Through leading by example – the department is an equal opportunity workplace: Nearly 40% of OCIO's new hires last year were women, compared with about 26% for the national technology workforce. OCIO has remarkable representation when it comes to women in high-level leadership, with 74% of women serving in management positions, which includes the GS-13 level through Senior Executive Service leadership positions.

What are some recent projects you’ve helped lead for the Mine Safety and Health Administration?

I am currently working on modernizing MSHA’s web-based application that serves as their core information management system into a new enterprise application. These upgrades increase efficiency and improve security and functionality of the application, which MSHA personnel use for enforcing safety and health standards, managing miner and instructor certifications, assessing violation penalties, managing mine information, processing contested violations, tracking required mine inspector training, and certifying mining equipment.

We’re also supporting MSHA on updates to the Mine Emergency Operation Logbook. This is a web-based application that runs on servers in MEO trucks and enables mine emergency responders to better disseminate vital information in real time. Additionally, we’re enhancing the user experience for a web-based application that schedules and tracks trainings conducted by the National Mine Health and Safety Academy, which serves as the central training facility for federal mine inspectors, mine safety professionals from other government agencies, the mining industry and labor.

What other MSHA mission applications does OCIO support?

MSHA has a unique custom desktop application that mine inspectors use when conducting field inspections. Inspectors can download current district and record inspection information off-line at remote mine locations, and then upload the inspection data when they regain internet connectivity.

Even as Women’s History Month draws to a close, OCIO will continue to showcase and support women leaders from both the past and present, particularly those in underrepresented industries. It’s an opportunity to recognize their achievements and encourage other women to pursue their professional interests.

Mary “Beth” Nettles is the OCIO Section Chief for MSHA Mission Applications at the U.S. Department of Labor. Follow OCIO on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Are you interested in joining the OCIO Team? View available positions and apply today!