Those of you old enough to remember the 80’s may recall a song by Depeche Mode called ‘Get The Balance Right’ – nothing to do with testing or tech, but just a great song, and as I was thinking about this post, that’s the title that came to mind, and thus my musical memory.
I’ve been reflecting this morning on Diversity. It’s a word thrown around a lot to basically mean ‘not only white men’. It’s not saying that my views, opinions and participation in things are no longer wanted, but that everyone’s views and opinions are wanted, not just people like me.
In a few weeks, I will be taking part in something (online of course) and only saw the list of other participants over the weekend. We are all male, from different countries, so we are diversified in that we are not all British and white, but not in terms of gender balance. And this is what we forget – diversification isnt just one thing – its not just about skin colour or just about gender, or just about nationality, or just about background – its all of those things. Lisa Crispin posted a Tweet which started off with the line ‘There’s no excuse at all for not having plenty of women speakers at DevOps / CD / SRE conferences…’ and its a good one to call out. I had assumed there would be a better mix as this is 2020 after all, and all organisers should be aware by now – but this isnt always the case. And hence this post.
Equality doesnt have to mean that every workplace, every conference etc has to have an exact 50% male/female ratio – it can flex either way, but should never be 100/0 either as that doesnt represent the testing profession (which actually has a higher ratio of women – certainly in the teams I have managed!). There are professions with a higher female ratio – e.g. nursery and primary school teachers – is it a problem or just a reality? Does it matter? Is anyone disadvantaged? Does it mean that boys grow up thinking teaching jobs for men are only in secondary schools? Answers on a postcard (as they used to say on TV).
Thinking about conferences etc, there are arguments around whether we are making them ‘women friendly’ enough and whether thats the issue – and I struggle with that a bit. If we say that women are finding it difficult to put themselves forward, are we recognising that there are barriers or just generalising all women in the same way? Generalising is lazy, and makes it seem as though women have the problem – and I dont agree with that. There are many amazing women speakers out there, but a lot still haven’t been heard. Why is that? Has the work been done to properly understand the reasons?
And its not just that we are only missing women’s voices – we are missing so many testers who are not involved in speaking, for any number of reasons. I wonder how many conference organisers in their feedback sheets have questions asking ‘Is there anything that prevents you from putting yourself forward as a speaker?’ and ‘If so, how could we help you?’. Even anonymous answers would give some key pointers as to what is holding people back for any reason – could be shyness, language barrier, timing etc.
Of course the thing to remember is that we should not force people to do jobs or tasks they dont want to do – whether male or female. I think we miss the point that as humans, we have the right to choose what we want to do ourselves.
Diversity is about giving everyone the opportunity to do something if they want to, and not just to fill a quota, whether that’s in terms of a job role or speaking at a conference.
As testers what can we do to help each other?
If invited to speak at a conference, or accepted to speak at one, ask who else is involved. Is there a good balance? Call it out if not.
Work with an awesome tester you know who could be good at speaking, and help them plan out a topic, guide them with preparation, and encourage them to tell their story. Coach them!
Offer to pair talk – I have done this a couple of times with first time speakers and it worked really well. It can be a good stepping stone for a new speaker to build confidence and go on to do a solo talk afterwards.
If they are not ready to speak, encourage them to write a blog. Help them to get their voice out there and get noticed in some way that build their confidence.
Share their posts and when they are ready to speak, recommend them.
And as conference organisers, what can you do?
Stop being lazy and just asking me who I know! Get out there on social media, look on Twitter and start following testers there, see what they post, get a sense of who they are and approach good people to involve them.
Plan who you want to involve – and if that means declining me because you have already got more testers like me and want to have a better mix of people, please be open and tell me. I’m ok to hear that as a message.
Just because you invite 10 testers from different backgrounds to speak, it doesnt mean they will all say yes – they may just not want to, and thats ok. But leaving it there is not ok. Persevere. Create a wide pool of testers who you can pick from and dont just rely on the same group each time. Keep going until you have a good mix of people who really represent the make up of our industry.
Thanks for reading – please let me know your thoughts, especially if you face barriers to getting more involved – message me privately if that would help.