My post about gender and diversity

Stump in Red Hills
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This is a post I’ve put off writing on purpose because it’s not my favorite topic of discussion.  That’s not because I feel shy about it, it’s just because people have usually already made up their minds on this particular topic which makes the opportunity cost of the discussion high.  I’ve noticed Lisa Crispin and others making valiant efforts to have this discussion in testing.  I agree with her the others involved  that it is time.

We need to talk about the role of gender and diversity in testing.

I am tired of hearing about how my being a woman is important to the way I test.  It’s a poor definition of “woman” that I don’t believe holds up well if it’s really dissected.  There are many different ways to be a woman, and I’m not going to highlight all of them here.  I’ll just point out one stereotype that needs to go:  women have babies.  I don’t have babies and I don’t know that I’ll ever have a baby.  In fact, I have plenty of women friends who never want to have a baby.  Are we still women?

The flip side of this is that each person has differences that make them valuable on a test team.  Hopefully these advantages are obvious enough that there’s no need to go through that argument.  The problem arises when we start stereotyping individuals into monolithic groups that are actually quite varied.

Lately I’ve been thinking about this in terms of levels of measurement.  Maybe that’s because the book I learned this from,  Stephen Kan’s Metrics and Models review, really goes for the throat in the examples used to illustrate levels of measurement.

Nominal: Classifying elements into categories.  Kan uses the example of religion by saying that,  “if the attribute of interest is religion, we may classify the subjects of the study into Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, and so on.”

Ordinal: Ranking is introduced.  Kan writes that, “we may classify families according to socio-economic status: upper class, middle class, and lower class.”

Interval Scale: At this level, there are exact, standardized differences between points of measurements.  Elements can be compared using addition and subtraction and depend on having some standard of measurement.  Kan uses a KLOC example to illustrate this one, “assuming products A, B, and C are developed in the same language, if the defect rate of software product A is 5 defects per KLOC and product B’s rate is 3.5 defects per KLOC, then we can say product A’s defect level is 1.5 defects per KLOC higher than product B’s defect level.”

Ratio Scale: This level is differentiated from the interval scale only because there is a zero element present.

Where do humans fit on this scale?  The classifications we have for each other are nominal and ordinal categorizations, but I don’t think that the levels of measurement come anywhere close to defining the measure of human experience.  Gender is what I get thrown in my face because I happen to have a vagina.  Never mind the fact that I am the one earning the money in my family, I don’t have children and I don’t wear pink or even bake.

There is a nasty undercurrent in testing at the moment that tries to define me as “woman tester.”  There’s no need to even look that hard if you want to find it.  When I see this  I will call it out and I will call it out loudly.  I call it out because it undermines hard work done every day not just by women who show up for their tech jobs.  It’s also undermining respect shown to women by hordes of male geeks who want things to be better.  Guys:  I hear you.  I know you want me to feel happy and comfortable at work.  I know you want more diversity in testing and technology.  It means the world to me that you feel this way.  I hope that we are far enough along with this problem that others, male, female, transgendered, will call it out with me.

So if you are among those who think we all ought to be wearing badges announcing how great it is that we fit some cultural stereotype/straightjacket, I hope you take some time to rethink that stance.  It’s a waste of time we could be spending on other problems in testing.

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7 thoughts on “My post about gender and diversity”

  1. I looked at the first link which is a link to the Diversity in Agile series. I read through it pretty closely so I would have more of on understanding of what this is about.

    Having written a blog post above that talks about how I don’t like being boxed into someone’s definition of being a woman, I can understand why you are confused.

    Part of the reason for having initiative like diversity in Agile is to expand what people see in their minds when they think “Agile” or “Developer.” I’ve seen something similar done by Carnegie Mellon’s Comp Sci Dept. When I was in my CS undergrad, their department was going around to high schools in an effort to change what people see in their heads when they think of the words “Computer Scientist.”

    So what does a tester look like? What does a computer scientist look like? These are questions being addressed explicitly by Diversity in Agile and by Carnegie Mellon. Here is the plot twist that can make these efforts ground-breaking if done well: They are implicitly questioning and expanding what it means to be a woman.

    Some of us wear makeup and some of us don’t. Some of us fly jets in the military and some of us hate stepping on a plane at all. Some of us wear a headscarf or a cross to work and some of us have no place in our lives for religion. We are all women and there are way too few of us in testing and in technology.

    I see the mission of Diversity in Agile as an attempt to make some space at the table. Having been through computer and physics classes where I was the only woman, I can vouch for feeling more comfortable if I see other women around. I feel that this is a reflexive and human reaction to feeling isolated and othered, and I’ve seen this before.

    As an exchange student living in an international dorm in Germany during the nineties, I noticed that, at the beginning of the year, everyone was hanging out in groups of their own nationality. This was partly because we all sucked in varying levels at German and we all had to find ways to sign up for classes and get our visas straightened out. By the end of the year, however, all of us felt more comfortable in Germany and the nationalistic groups, had mostly disbanded.

    If you see women sticking together, it’s because we’re trying to make ourselves comfortable and figure out the best approach to being in the minority at work. Gathering inner strength is important when you are trying to expand yourself as a professional and a person. This is when I’m ok with people seeing me as a woman.

    When I’m not ok with people seeing me as a woman is when I’m working on really challenging problems at work. I might be way down in the tech and someone throws out at me, “oh you’re just taking that approach because you’re a girl.” All of my training and prior work that I’ve done to solve the problem has just been swept aside because of someone’s arbitrary and personal definition of woman. This is not ok and is actually ileagle in the U.S.

    We need visibility for women in testing & technology. Women need to be able to show up at work and worry about testing instead of being treated differently than men.

    I hope this clears up some confusion.

  2. I think it’s particularly difficult for women testers, because we are battling two stereotypes – the stereotype that developers have more technical skills than testers, and the stereotype that men have more technical skills than women.

    Unhappily, the most appalling gender discriminations that I have witnessed in IT have been women discriminating against other women. I saw a Development Manager talk about not hiring an excellent candidate because she had just married and “will probably have children soon”. I had a manager announce (falsely) to my colleagues that my reason for resigning was that I was going to get married and have children. I was approached by a male colleague in highly inappropriate ways and told by a woman HR representative that I was probably overreacting. All of these women were, or had been, testers.

    There is a need for change, and it needs to start with us. I like that you are raising awareness of this issue and I think it takes guts. Good on you.

  3. I’m part of the Diversity in agile group mentioned by Michael.
    We would like to gear about rolemodels, that do the exact opposite of what Trish is telling. Stories about people that make women want to go in (or stay in IT)

    I hope that you will propose at least one of these rolemodels.

  4. Emancipation was the death of many things.

    First: I have numerous girlfriends who think that to hell with that shit she would like to shop and go around and be paid for everything and not have to worry about anything but children and household and friends and hobbies and etc etc. Hell i would love that.

    Second: There are various countries that view your point differently. In my country we have no problem with woman. We treat them the same way. If they make a mistake we help them as any other human being. If they are good we praise them. BUT. There are woman who want the best of booth worlds. They don’t want to be treated as a woman in job but they want SOME of the things that come with woman hood. Politeness opening the door, extra things, extra earnings, and of course children and time for that.

    It is a delicate topic indeed. I do think that you should be happy that you are taken as equal. In Somalia when a woman got’s raped she is arrested for offending the man who raped her. There a tribes out there who still sacrifice there woman to old, long forgotten Gods.

    So my advice to you is, you too should think before you make any amendments and try to figure out what you could do to be accepted as equal.

    Because people never change.

  5. @Yves I’m working on it.

    This is quite a comment. I took time to think about what you’re saying here before posting it.

    The women you are talking about in the first point are doing what they want. I don’t care if women or men want to stay home . It’s a luxury. Right now, my husband is taking a break from 10 years of firefighting. If anyone deserves to stay home for a while, he does.

    Your second point confuses me some. I don’t really know what you mean by extra things and extra earnings. Unless your country is different, women typically earn less than men.

    I’m definitely happy that I don’t have to worry about my safety, but I don’t see it as an extra in life. It pains me greatly that there are countries with situations like the one you describe and countries where fathers kill their daughters if their daughters aren’t dating a man hand-picked by dad.

    I’m never giving up on equality and, as people have seen on twitter, it’s something I’m willing to fight and even lose credibility over.

    People can change in negative or positive ways. From what I’ve seen they always do it in their own way and when they are ready. Forgiveness, sobriety, education, exercise, volunteering …these change people and usually for the better.

    I once knew a college history teacher who was teaching students about searching on the internet. This was a while ago when Google was still pretty young. The teacher asked her students to draw a conclusion by googling for women, birth rate and education. The conclusion her students drew was that when the amount of education women are getting increases, the birthrate decreases. This is corroborated in Hans Rosling’s legendary Ted talk.

  6. I am not a tester but I appreciate the points you bring up about gender in general. This discussion can go much further than just the IT world.
    Thank you Marlena for not letting our organs define our abilities.

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