Women in Agile Summit at Agile Testing Days 2016

By Maaret Pyhäjärvi

Agile is the most inclusive of the modern tech subgroups. It welcomes people from various roles and specialties to work in close collaboration, extending well beyond the realm of software development. Agile Testing Days Conference has taken an active role in building their networks in finding diverse speaker candidates ensuring women feel welcome. From that mindset in the 2016 edition, the Women in Agile Summit was born as a celebration of women in agile where women and everyone else was welcome with the rule of active listening: making sure all voices, in particular the women’s get heard and appreciated.

Meet the Host!

As I was asked to host a Women in Agile Summit with Agile testing days, I could only wonder ‘why me?’ but also go through the usual ‘oh no, now I will be perceived a women’s rights advocate over a brilliant tester that I am’. My favorite phrase came soon to rescue: none of us is ‘just’ anything, we all have many sides where one does not exclude the other.

I later learned there might have been a secondary reason for my invitation to host the Summit as I received the Most Influential Agile Testing Professional Person (MIATPP) 2016 award at the conference and got completely blown off by surprise.

I’m an empirical technologist, a tester and a non-programming programmer, a catalyst for improvement, and a speaker and an organizer. I work as a lead quality engineer (read: just a tester) at F-Secure in Finland.

Women, Women, Women – Why Do We Talk About This?

If you look around in conferences on agile, tech or testing, you expect to see a smaller portion of women. The women positively notice if there is a conference with a line to a ladies bathroom. When the numbers are equal and represent different minorities, we all get to represent ourselves instead of our subgroup. That is, whatever I do no longer represents women, but it’s just me.

But it’s not just about creating a comfortable environment for everyone to learn. It’s also about the results and the impact. With the role tech has in our shared future, we need to build that future together. And there’s research suggesting that companies with gender-mixed teams are good for the bottom line, with the companies being more profitable.

Changing Things By Talking

In preparation of the summit, I soon realized the best format is for everyone to bring whatever they have to talk about, and create a space for great conversations to happen. And that’s what Lean Coffee (the method) is about.

Our group of 30+ people split into five tables. In each table, every participant wrote down topics on post-it notes. The topics were introduced shortly, voted on for popularity and discussed in a time-boxed manner regularly checking if the energy of the group was still with the topic under discussion. After an hour, we did a round of lessons learned in small groups.

The topics were really versatile. Some dwelled deep into gender issues and solutions. Some took a more personal approach on solving a few concerns on how to find work and work in agile projects very specific to topic introducer. One group focused on how cultures create similar dynamics than gender. And one group had discussions around sharing experiences of blogging.

We all came out with having had meaningful discussions with a few new people. Over time, that is what changes things for the better. After all, when looking for speakers with merit (in our own eyes), we look into circles we know of. If we are not actively widening our circles, our selections happen from a narrow subset. No one else can tell my story and versatile stories are worth telling. Representation matters: seeing someone like you doing things reminds you that those things are available to you too.