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Women's History Month: Driving Change and Modernization in Information Technology Systems

By Deborah Stephens, Deputy Chief Information Officer, United States Patent and Trademark Office

My name is Debbie Stephens, and I am the Deputy Chief Information Officer (DCIO) for the Commerce Department’s U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). I have served at the USPTO for over 30 years in multiple leadership roles, during which I have worked to improve the automated tools and informational resources that facilitate electronic processing of patent applications. In my current role, I am the principal advisor to the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and responsible for managing day-to-day Office of the Chief Information (OCIO) operations with significant oversight on information technology (IT) stabilization and modernization efforts. I guide my teams towards continual improvements in IT delivery for maximum value to all stakeholders.

I am thrilled to continue to drive change in our information technology area and leverage my experiences to ensure OCIO aims for better ways to solve customer service issues, operates with more speed, and delivers powerful software and services. I am a firm believer that anything we do can be improved. We survey our staff for their ideas, we empower them to try, fail, learn, and succeed, and then we recognize them for the good work that they do. I am committed to listening to my staff and welcoming their ideas for change, so that we can keep improving for our employees and delivering value to our customers.

As a daughter of a strong mother, a wife, and a mother of a smart strong woman, I have been blessed to have many women role models during my life–none more important than my mother. Married at age 21 to a Navy pilot, and quickly uprooting herself from her small town in Horton, Kansas to join him around the world, my mother adapted to new cultures and languages all the while raising four children, managing the household, and the official duties expected of an officer’s wife. She is smart, strong, kind, funny, and the steadfast rock that our family has been built on. It is my honor to call myself her daughter. I learned love and compassion from her, and I learned to always tell the truth and to never stop trying to do better and learn more. I learned from her that a girl can do anything that a boy can do, and I went on to have a successful college experience as an Academic All-American college athlete at George Mason University, playing Division 1 softball while earning my Bachelor of Arts degree. I then went on to receive a Master of Human Resource Management degree from the George Washington University. 

Additionally, I have met women in both my personal and professional career–such as the stay-at-home moms I worked with for 15 years in support of Girl Scouts at Fort Hunt Day Camp, organizing troop activities and selling Girl Scout cookies; their logistical expertise, ability to motivate and lead girls, many times doing it with a baby on the hip, and always with good humor—that have shown me how to evaluate situations from multiple and diverse lenses. I strive to learn from each encounter.

At the USPTO, I have had the fortune to work with and get to know women leaders from all areas within our organization. Women that have made their mark and gone on to new areas both within and external to the government, as well as women that have stayed for long periods of time at the USPTO. I have learned to be tenacious, detail oriented, to expect the best from everyone, and to always assume noble intent first and foremost.

Women’s History Month is meaningful to me in that it causes us to take a moment to acknowledge and reflect on the contributions that women have had towards the growth and prosperity of our country. The intellectual property community we support here at the USPTO has always had our fair share of smart and creative and industrious women that saw a need for a new way of doing things. These women were often granted patents and trademarks for inventions, businesses, and brands that contributed to the commerce and advancement of the U.S. Many great women are showcased during this month, and I want to acknowledge them. I also want to acknowledge women that may never have their name on a patent or trademark, the women that parent, the women that teach and support each other. And finally, the young women who are paving the way as the next generation of innovators. Together, we are a strong vibrant community that does great things–some large, some small—with empathy and concern for each other. 

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