Growing #WomenInAgile — Growing Myself
If you had asked me three years ago what I wanted out of the #WomenInAgile movement I would have said more female representation in the Agile and technology industries. But, in my head I was thinking, “I want to be at the front of this movement to help build my brand and career.” That self-serving mentality was not the right characteristic for a leader of the movement, but I did it anyway and grew into the servant leader I should have been at the beginning. The movement was also misguided. We had a destination, but no plan. We had societal symptoms, but didn’t understand the actual human problem. As I reflect on this realization now, I also see parallels to my personal and career journey. Then, it was about where I wanted to be in my career; now it is about who I have grown into.
The movement was also misguided. We had a destination, but no plan. We had societal symptoms, but didn’t understand the actual human problem.
The #WomenInAgile movement started as a simple open space discussion among a small number of women. These women began by re-posting blogs and inviting women to write for #WomenInAgile. The group started publicizing the hashtag #WomenInAgile on Twitter. We made a point to get women together at conferences to start forming relationships and collaborating. This was how the #WomenInAgile movement was born. But it still wasn’t enough; it fizzled out many times and slowly resurfaced every few months. We had to do something different, something more to help it grow into legs.
I could not let my passion for the topic relent so I took it upon myself to understand more about the lack of women’s involvement — why do we even need a movement like #WomenInAgile? It is not news to anyone that there are fewer women in technology fields because of recruitment and retention issues. But what about the women who are in the technology industry? What about the women who made it through the obstacles that stop so many others? What about the women like me? If I could not understand why those women were not involved in the Agile community, how could I even begin to think about tackling the bigger issues of recruitment and retention?
I decided to start with root cause analysis on the women who are present in the Agile industry because just I had to know WHY! Why was I here telling this story? What were the stories that were missing? How did I stumble into this industry and this group of women? I ended up in technology by mistake, made plenty of mistakes, faced and still face adversity, and now I am a huge supporter of the industry. That is certainly not the normal story, or is it?
This led to my master thesis research project titled Increasing Women’s Involvement in the Agile Community. I conducted interviews with women in the Agile community and distributed a survey open to both genders in the Agile industry via social media. This led to my discovery of a number of root reasons women are less involved than men in Agile community activities such as presenting at conferences, writing articles and blogs, participating in user group meetings, and earning certifications. The research also provided suggested strategies to increase women’s involvement that I wrote into an implementable, step-by-step action plan.
While that sounds like it wrapped up nicely, and my thesis does look nice, it’s the heart of the women I interviewed that drives me. The stories of conference harassment, judgement, and work-life balance difficulties touched me personally. It was like I was telling my own story. It was a narrative I knew so well I could have written it, and then I did. The reasons became real. The perceptions and biases the research uncovered were present in my own life, actions, opinions, and experiences.
It was like I was telling my own story. It was a narrative I knew so well I could have written it, and then I did.
I was a perpetrator of some of the reasons keeping other women from being more involved, and the reasons were holding me back, too. My research led not only to strategies to help women, but to very personal discoveries that have changed my entire career philosophy. I realized that I harbored a self-serving implicit bias about women’s confidence levels being lower than men’s and lower than my own. It affected how I carried myself and interacted with other women, how I viewed my career progression, and how I included or excluded others.
I wanted to be the leader; I wanted the glory to advance in my career. I felt I needed to beat all others out to do it, and I needed to do it without help so I did not have to share the credit. After purposeful self-reflection in my leadership classes led to this realization, I decided that was not the correct way to achieve my goals. I realized I should want to share my knowledge and promote other women instead of hoarding the information and career and brand potential for myself. It was not about advancing my career but finding myself and defining my values. I realized my previous mindset had driven some of my early actions in wanting to lead the #WomenInAgile charge.
At the end of my thesis defense and presentation of research, I made a commitment to the audience and myself that I would continue to spread my research results and work toward achieving higher levels of women’s involvement in the Agile and technology communities, spreading the word and work of #WomenInAgile for everyone and exploring new ways to include others in the quest. That is exactly what I have done over the past year and a half, culminating with a #WomenInAgile workshop funded by the Agile Alliance as part of the Agile2016 conference.
It was a wonderful opportunity for women and men to meet, work through issues, share experiences and ideas, and form relationships that will benefit the future of not just those present but the entire Agile community. We brought in an inspiring female keynote who shared her experiences moving from corporate sales to technology and the palpable differences she noticed between the two areas in regards to gender diversity and treatment.
The stories I heard reminded me of the research interviews. Such similar but different experiences that triggered the same feelings. By providing a space to be vulnerable, the #WomenInAgile workshop enabled genuine trusting relationships to start forming among the attendees. It made it real for them like the interviews had done for me.
The onus shifted from personal good to greater good and beyond. It was not my event; it was everyone’s event!
Planning for a second annual event next year at the Agile2017 conference and increasing the involvement and attendance among both genders is already an item on my personal backlog and others’ who attended. There has been an overwhelming show of support toward the event and I feel so much gratitude and pride in what has been and will keep forming. Those who attended in 2016 will be the event’s biggest advocates in extending personal invitations to others, which is one of the key strategies my thesis research uncovered to increasing women’s involvement.
Though the inequality is ever present, there have been improvements from these efforts and many others. Many more conferences have female chairs, female speakers, keynotes, and thought leaders. There are visibly more women present at conferences and user group meetings. The sense of community at those events is readily apparent. I’ve had the opportunity to share my research in articles, presentations, podcasts, and hallway discussions to help spread the word and de-stigmatize the discussion. Women should not be made to feel uncomfortable talking about the existence of the gender inequality among other women at the risk that men may feel ostracized. Women have even told me about forming #WomenInAgile groups locally and have started online forums to connect remotely not only for personal career advancement but to extend help, support, and mentoring to other women. I am glad these have snowballed outward to include and inspire others.
Women should not be made to feel uncomfortable talking about the existence of the gender inequality among other women at the risk that men may feel ostracized.
While these efforts will not solve the problem — we need more societal perception change for that — they certainly have made some great strides in a short amount of time. I sincerely hope I live to see the day where this is no longer a relevant issue because equality and selflessness win, but until then, you can expect to see me at the front of the room helping to drive the conversation and more importantly empowering others to do the same. I challenge you to keep the momentum going!
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