Today I was asked an interesting question about how I felt as a female tester and whether I thought I needed or wanted a group focused on Women in Agile.
I had to think a bit about my own history in test and remember the few bad times I’ve had as a female tester. Most of the times I had problems was not because of my skills as a tester but because of other people’s impressions of what a female tester was or could do. Their own prejudices were the issue. What did I do? In one case the person was outright disrespectful and I personally confronted them. In the other two, I did my job and I did it well and I refused to worry about what they thought of me.
When I think of any group called “Women in X”, I immediately try to figure out what the purpose of the group is. I am never a fan of any type of diversity quotas or rules. But I consider that there are HUGE numbers of ways to be different from another person. Things like skillsets, experience, interest, hobbies, etc. Being a female is a part of my makeup but it’s only a small part of the puzzle. I’m more likely to consider myself an Agile tester or a security tester than I am a female tester because I don’t think being female is a major point I bring to the table.
Is that wrong? I don’t think it’s wrong or right, per se. It is how I strongly believe in selling myself and how I try to judge others.
Another aspect to consider is that having a group like this also tends to polarize people (mostly men but some women as well). It carries undertones of political correctness, quotas and reverse judgement. A Men in Agile would do the same to some women, if you’re honest. It’s similar to the argument of why to have a Black Music Awards and not a White Music Awards. Someone is always left out and offended. It’s not unifying, it’s divisive.
As a female tester who works in an Agile environment, I’m not sure I’d appreciate the idea that someone put a divide between myself and my team, at least in some people’s perception. Agile is a much more collaborative and peer environment for test than many, does it need a division like this? Why just in Agile? Why not at a much higher and broader level?
I’ve been a member of diversity councils before and, in fact, worked with the women’s organization within Microsoft for over 8 years. I do believe that women should be given early exposure to all the variety of professions they could enter. Too many women don’t consider fields they could enjoy and be successful at because of misconceptions of those professions for the women in them. I believe this is a valid effort but I think this is true for some socio-economic groups and ethnic groups as well. Being women isn’t much different from any of those other groups other than it’s an identifiable social programming. I have issues when an effort to become and foster technology and technical skills becomes more about fostering resentment and a victim mentality than anything else. And it’s very tricky not to fall into that trap.
In this case, I do NOT know the charter of the group Women in Agile. I have no idea what they are trying to accomplish, why they feel it’s needed and what they think they can do. I’m purely talking about my own experiences here. They may have a great plan, I’ve not had a chance to check it out yet. Agile doesn’t seem to pose a unique challenge to women – most problems appear to be more women in IT than Agile in particular.
Diversity is valuable – ALL diversity is valuable. In my co-workers, I want as diverse a set of skills, knowledge, experience and aptitude as I can get. Yes, gender is a part of that but it’s not a huge piece. At least in my own case, I’m content with being a “tester” (though more a programmer-writer anymore) than a “female tester”.