Learning how to be an ally to non-binary folk

Bruce (the legend) onstage at ATD

This is my third post sharing my biggest takeaways from Agile Testing Days. OK, I’m pretty slow, and, I hope my learning might inspire someone else’s.

I first got to know Bruce (the legend) on social media and via Ministry of Testing. She was an amazing host for an online TestBash. Bruce makes awesome videos and is an amazing artist – I am proud to own a piece of her artwork. I knew that one of the highlights of Agile Testing Days 2021 would be her keynote, “How to be an ally to non-binary folk in tech”. And I definitely want to be an ally. This talk surpassed my highest expectations, and I learned so much! I’m not going to try to re-tell any of Bruce’s compelling stories, I’ll just share some of what I learned.Bruce on stage at Agile Testing Days

Hopefully I learned well enough that I don’t mis-state or misrepresent any of Bruce’s keynote. Bruce noted that “I may not have a preferred pronoun, but I do have preferred adjectives- nice ones!” Let me just say – Bruce is amazing, super smart, an awesome story teller, engaging, inspiring, creative, artistic, nice, fun to hang out with…. I could go on and on.

Bruce advised us that non-binary people will use their correct term. Simply listen to learn what it is. Bruce told about arriving at her first job in tech, and realizing that they were different from everyone else, she didn’t belong. It’s hurtful when people don’t see who you are.

I confess that I had little understanding of the term “transgender”. The explanation is pretty simple – transgender people are a different gender than what they were officially assigned at birth. Binary people are man or woman. Non-binary people don’t have a specific gender. Bruce is agender, meaning without gender. There is a really long list of non-binary genders.

One of my biggest takeaways from this talk was that when someone comes out to you, don’t say, “You’re still the same person to me”. The person is fundamentally different than the person you thought they were.  Another big takeaway is, if I witness a situation such as someone telling a misogynist or transphobic joke, it’s my responsibility to speak up. The person with the least safety should not be responsible for calling it out. And don’t let anyone get away with saying “They meant well” or “You know what they’re like”. Taking away someone’s psychological safety is unacceptable.

Thanks to Bruce’s clear message, I am working even harder on listening, and learning from my mistakes. If I screw up – it’s not all about ME. I will remember to learn and move on.

Here’s an action item for all of us. Bruce got her first testing job from a friend who thought she’d do well at it – even though she didn’t have a degree in tech or tech experience. And look at what’s happened – less than three years in, she’s giving a keynote at one of the best conferences. Our community is in a unique position to get brand new, diverse talent into the industry. Yeah, I know, we don’t want to say “anyone can be a tester”. However, someone with curiosity, lateral thinking skills, a passion for learning, empathy with customers, a background in a diverse range of areas, will quickly contribute value as a tester. Let’s get those gates – requirements for a CS degree, requirements for N years of experience, specific coding skills and the like –  out of our hiring pipelines.

Hiring someone without tech degree or experience, tweet from Angie JonesShortly after Agile Testing Days, I saw this tweet from my shero, Angie Jones. A great leader gives us a great example of how and why we remove those gates.

I challenge conference organizers to remove those gates too. Agile Testing Days took a chance on Bruce – this was her first conference talk, and it’s a keynote! And one of the best and most valuable keynotes I’ve ever watched. I know of a very few conferences that provide similar support for new voices.


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