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Last weekend, a conversation about diversity took place on twitter between several prominent folks in the Agile and Testing communities. There's a transcript archived here, and if you're not familiar with the gist of what transpired, this reply may make more sense if you read the transcript first.

First, I need to make clear that I'm not involved with the Diversity in Agile project in any way. What I'm about to say is based on having observed other initiatives of this same sort, and on seeing a pattern of discussion that's been repeated in workplaces, in the open source community, and now, to my dismay, in the Agile testing community.

Why give out awards for being a female in the technology field?

jbtestpilot: Request: can a "woman-in-test" explain to me how it feels to be honored & rewarded because of their gender?
Sat Jun 05 05:10:01 +0000 2010

As several people involved in the project have since pointed out, the project isn't giving out "awards". Moreover, the point of initiatives like this isn't to give out some kind of condescending "You're pretty good, for a girl!" award. It's to increase the visibility of women who are successful in the Agile community -- to adjust people's mindsets so that their idea of a successful Agile professional includes someone who happens to be female.

This has -- one hopes -- these benefits:

  • People in the Agile community become less likely to make negative assumptions about women in the community. Life for women in Agile gets better, in that they're less likely to be subject to sexist behaviour, like someone questioning their competence because they are female.
  • The Agile community is seen as a group that welcomes diversity. Women or other minorities who are considering taking part in the Agile community feel as though they are welcome to do so -- that they won't be singled out because of their gender, race, orientation, and so forth.

This isn't about trying to enforce some kind of "diversity quota". It's about making our community more aware of diversity issues, more welcoming for folks of diverse backgrounds, and a better place for everyone who's part of the community, regardless of their background.

What's this about "empowering women"? Is this all about women gaining power?

Protestations to the contrary aside, the phrase "empowering women" isn't about placing women above men. The starting point for this discussion is that women are disempowered, and so "empowering women" means to bring them to a place of equality. It's a level playing field that's being aimed for, not some kind of reverse sexism.

Gender & Biology 101

jamesmarcusbach: @lanettecream I guarantee you every normal male who works with you is actively suppressing certain thoughts. That's just biology.
Sat Jun 05 08:40:56 +0000 2010

I take exception to the insinuation that because I am male, there is some part of my mind that is perpetually thinking about sleeping with my female peers. This might be James' experience. It's not mine, and it's presumptuous and insulting to claim that it is.

Telling someone that she is constantly being viewed as a sexual object by all of her male peers, and further that this is the incontrovertible natural order of things, is not helpful. It's fucking creepy.

Gender & Biology 102

On the topic of biology: while it's been shown that men & women have neurological differences, it's a gross mistake to overgeneralize this and assume that all women tend to think in one way and all men in another. The differences between individuals are much greater than any biological difference between sexes. To use a coarse example: there are both women and men who are fantastic chefs. Even supposing that one sex has more inherent culinary ability than the other, that difference is completely eclipsed by the chasm in ability between individuals who are spectacularly talented cooks and those who are abysmal ones.

We have a whole bunch of different straight white guys on the team. Isn't that diversity?

There are two "diversities" that are being conflated in this discussion. I'll arbitrarily dub them "thought diversity" and "personal diversity".

Personal diversity has to do with each team member's background and who they are. Do they hail from Argentina, Australia, or Angola? Do they have a degree in computer science, philosophy, or none at all? What's their gender identity, their race, their class background? This is personal diversity -- the differences between the team members as individuals.

Thought diversity refers to the diversity of ideas that people come up with as a result of their different ways of thinking. Thought diversity is informed by each person's life experience, and thus by "personal diversity". Say two testers are trying to reproduce an elusive bug. Perhaps one will start by trying actions that have caused similar bugs in the past. The other might start by looking through log files to see if anything relevant turns up. These two different approaches represent thought diversity.

An Agile team needs to cultivate thought diversity because it needs different perspectives on problems to succeed. It needs welcome and support personal diversity not just as a means to engender thought diversity, but because it is the right thing to do. Treating someone inequitably is wrong. It's as plain as that.

Diversity's Not My Problem

Screw that, it's everybody's problem.

If we have an imbalance in who can take part in the Agile community, or in our industry -- if people are leaving the profession because they're being singled out for unfair treatment, or not joining it because they don't feel like dealing with the environment they'll find there -- that's a problem for all of us. By turning people away, we are missing out on talent and ideas that can help us propel our craft forwards.

If you care about the future of our industry, you should care about diversity. Think about it.

From: (Anonymous)
Maybe it is ok to say that we can't talk about work and sexual thoughts even somewhat near to one another because it is so inappropriate. Just like I don't assume every person I meet wants to sleep with me, I also don't assume that I turn into some sort of robot anytime I enter the workplace and so does everyone else, and their mind is 100% focused on work at all times and never wanders. I know that isn't the case with my female co-workers. In fact, I blogged once about my friend's work crush on one of the executives and giving her a hard time about it when he would speak at company meetings. Does that make me totally perverse for teasing her or talking about something so inappropriate at work? I don't think so. It makes me human. I also know that even if I never hear it there is likely a list of top 5 hottest females in each office that exists that someone somewhere is calling a "to do" list and laughing about and that HR would like to shut down. We'll all have to watch one of these cheesy harassment anti-lawsuit videos & I'll be giggling about how over the top they are. This hasn't gotten less messy. It is MORE messy since women are now more likely to objectify male co-workers instead of it being just one-sided. And what about cases where it isn't unwanted attention? Even more unclear. I see way too much black & white thinking, which I admit is safe, but it doesn't reflect the reality I live in which is mostly hazy cloud cover. I don't really care about random thoughts people have if they treat me fairly and well. I assume that if I am professional and fair to my co-workers and do not share uncomfortable thoughts with them they will also feel respected. Is it fair to tell someone that their normal thoughts as a human being are creepy? If they are just thoughts, no, it isn't creepy. Now, if they are stalking some man or woman at work who has asked them not to, that is creepy. I have working experience that proves to me that viewing someone else as a sex object isn't just done by men. I think that this aspect of gender difference is what James was talking about, and that it isn't one sided, nor was he saying harassment is acceptable on either side. I don't see any reason to continue that conversation, because I believe that does nothing to get us closer to diversity.

The problems I'm thinking about aren't to do with harassment. They are to do with working as a team and fairness on the job. Merit and skill correlating with opportunity and income. We aren't there.

From Marlena

Date: 2010-06-15 10:35 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This sums up nicely what I was feeling as I was watching and attempting to participate in the conversation.

I'm hoping that once the Diversity in Agile project is put together and people see that it is a visibility project and not a rewards program, people will feel less divided over it.

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rickscott: Bemused-looking picture of Rick (Default)
Rick Scott

Who?

Canadian philosopher-geek who's profoundly interested in how we can collaborate to make technology work better for everyone. He's an incorrigible idealist, an open source contributor, and a staunch believer in testing, universal access, and the hacker ethic.

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