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”.
Pingback: Workplace Diversity: Why diversity can ignite innovation and guarantee success « Testing in The Wild West
I just stumbled across your blog while looking for SDET reading. Mostly I agree w/ you, both about these groups being useful for visibility and shattering stereotypes, and about the risk of support groups leading to a victim mentality. However, I do think there is one key point that isn’t mentioned here.
Being women isn’t much different from any of those other groups other than it’s an identifiable social programming. I disagree with this. Being a woman has one key difference from other categories: Women often have biological reproductive responsibilities, and though not all women are mothers, those that are have a particular set of challenges that are unique in that they are not imposed on us by society, but by our biology and life decisions. Other socio-economic groups simply do not have to balance pregnancy and breastfeeding as well as stereotypes and myths; in theory, if the stereotypes and myths went away, most socio-economic groups wouldn’t have problems or need special treatment anymore (think of the integration of Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans). Not so women (or at least mothers), who would still continue to bear children and breastfeed.
However, as you point out about Women in Agile, this is a problem for all working women, and it might have enough unique solutions available in the field of IT for women in IT – but it is difficult to see how any of these problems would take on a different nature in Agile, either. I just wanted to mention this category of women’s issues in the workplace that really does raise some distinct challenges from the challenges of other socio-economic groups.
While I understand the idea this take on women’s issues, I question again whether this is an issue that is a “test” or “IT” issue. Yes, it’s a male vs female issue in the workplace in general – but what does it do for testing in particular? It may be a bit of a scoping question again where it’s an issue that is really a broader one than in software testing itself.
Breastfeeding or pregnancy doesn’t make me a better tester or, I don’t believe, a different tester than I am non-pregnant or non-nursing.
Thanks for stopping by. It’s an interesting thing for me to think about.