I’m a volunteer on the Diversity in Agile project founded by Mike Sutton and supported by the Agile Alliance.
For reasons I don’t understand, some people have misunderstood the first phase of the project, which seeks to recognize and celebrate the contributions of women in agile development, as an awards program for women. Some people even thought it was only for women in testing.
Jon Bach asked me a good question. A couple of weeks ago, our Writing About Testing group held a conference in Durango, CO. The group was nicely balanced with as many women as men. Jon asked me what advantages I felt this gave the conference. He found my reply helpful and encouraged me to share it here. I’ve done so, with edits to make it more understandable to people who weren’t there. I hope others will find it helpful.
(Some others are finding this still makes them uncomfortable. I guess this is just such a delicate issue, it’s hard to express my feelings without offending someone. But as we are losing women from our industry at an alarming rate, I feel like I have to take the risk of pissing a few people off. Please take this in the spirit that I have the best intentions at heart. And think about this – would you want to work on a homogeneous team? Yes, gender is only one part of diversity. It happens to be the first area that the Diversity in Agile project is recognizing.)
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I’m sure the advantages of having a lot of women at WAT were different for each participant. And while I thought “wow, this is rare, I’m in a room with lots of women”, it wasn’t on my mind all the time.
For me, some advantages that may have been due to the gender balance were:
- I felt much more comfortable with a lot of women in the group. This wasn’t so much conscious, as just a feeling of ease and belonging that I don’t always feel on my almost-all-male dev team.
- I find women are in general more active at collaborating and communicating, especially in a new setting. I think we had a lot of good energy and jumping into the exercises and great conversations because we were a diverse group.
- Seeing other women contribute built my own confidence that I could contribute. I’m not saying that men in general try to reduce my confidence level. But I think most of us feel better with peers around. (Not to say men aren’t my peers – but they aren’t as much alike to me as other women are).
- This is a note I wrote down when Marlena Compton was talking, I’m not sure if she said it or if it’s just a thought she generated in me:
- “It’s easy to not feel safe if you aren’t sure about your thoughts. You need a space safe enough to get thoughts out. “
- I feel more personal safety when there are more women in the room. I think it might be because other women are also thinking about safety, so they make an effort to provide it. (Again, I am not saying that men do not care about personal safety or do not make an effort to provide it. I just don’t get the same feeling in a room full of only men.) Also in my notes is:
- If you’ve got something to say, try to say it in a safe place. Don’t invest all your weight into your initial foray – get some feedback from a trusted peer group.
- I’m not sure if Marlena said that but I’m pretty sure it was one of the women. So, generally I felt I was getting more support and information about personal safety and confidence from the women in the room.
- This is a gross generalization of course – but some men in the room talked about using anger as motivation for writing (which I do understand, it’s not a bad thing) while I felt women were coming more from a point of view of joy. For example, Elisabeth Hendrickson‘s stunt hamsters and pandas added an element of fun.
- I feel that because there were so many diverse viewpoints in the room, I got a lot more ideas than from a group of only men. I can’t prove this, of course. But I’m thinking of Elisabeth’s slides with her panda and hamster people, Chris McMahon‘s software development-as-artistic talk, the haiku exercise, donkey energy, the “P”s of motivation, we had a huge variety of ideas that I don’t think we’d have had with a less diverse group. (sorry, for those of you who weren’t there, I don’t have room to explain all those things, they will be blogged about later!)
I love the guys I work with, but I find I often have a point of view that’s different from theirs. Of course, it’s hard for me to know how much of my different viewpoint is just because I’m a tester. We’ve worked together so long, this has changed over the years, as we’ve all influenced each other.
But I remember at first, when there was only one other woman on the team, I was a bit shocked at the way they joked around – insults that were playful, but to an outsider it was a bit shocking, I couldn’t always tell if they were kidding. I don’t think they’d have had this aspect of their culture with more women around, though I could be wrong.
When all the guys play Quake every afternoon, and scream and cuss and pound the desk, they’re having a great time; the other woman on the team and I can enjoy that they are having fun, but we don’t feel like joining in. On a previous all-male team I worked with, I felt left out when they celebrated success by playing Foosball (which I’m no good at – though I do know women who love to play) or went to a movie I really didn’t want to go see (but I went anyway, which expanded my horizons – I learned to love X-Men!) I really enjoyed having more women on my team back in the day when there were more female programmers.
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I would appreciate any suggestions to make the Women in Agile site communicate our mission more clearly.
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