Context: male, female, or N/A

If you’re reading this, it’s a safe bet that you are either male or female.

But maybe you’re reading this at work right now and feel gender neutral.  After all, gender is irrelevant in testing.

Or is it?

You could be testing a website tailored to women or acting out a male persona as you test an e-survey about your last prostate exam.

But let’s say you’re testing a password login for an e-commerce site with the standard bag of tricks for test ideas: cross-site scripting, SQL injection, embedded HTML, super long passwords to exploit a buffer overflow.  In that case, you may be asexual, gender neutral, and think that ideas are ideas regardless of sex.

But let’s say you do this testing thing very well and have garnered a bit of a name for yourself.  You get an award for it, public recognition, accolades, blog mentions, a testimonial dinner in your honor.  Oh, and to qualify for this great honor, it was required that you be female.

Now how does it feel? Your ideas were great, but better that you’re a woman!

I doubt a condescending tone was the intent of the organizers of “Women In Agile“.  I’m sure they felt there are not enough women in testing — though it’s unclear how they calculate such a thing — and this is their way of promoting diversity, or in their words: “give a voice to this group and promote the empowerment of women in agile teams.”

I hadn’t realized women were “underpowered” and voiceless, but maybe I’m nieve (wouldn’t be the first time).  Regardless, they’re going to find ways to empower women. I’m not included in that just because of my gender.  Apparently, my gender already makes me empowered enough not to need outside help.  In fact, if there was a Men in Agile org, there would be an outcry, right? 

I would be mad about this female bias if I felt I needed empowerment from an outside source.  Maybe I have it made because I’m a man, but I prefer to believe it’s because I have found ways to develop my own power. Just because I’m a man doesn’t mean the way has been paved for me.  If it was, I must have missed the secret meeting.

But what really struck me about the Women in Agile program was this: “[Women’s] stories will describe how embracing the diverse opinions, experiences and special perspectives of women can and does make agile teams and projects better.”

I felt that not only was sexist but would even be condescending to some women testers I know.  I asked some and they confirmed that.  And that’s why I felt justified in reacting strongly on Twitter. The WIA says just because you are female, you have a “special perspective”, but special in what context? Any context? I suppose women would have a special perspective about prostate cancer, but wouldn’t I have a special perspective about uterine cancer?

With this, I tweeted about the WIA Friday night and it kicked off a conversation between Lanette Creamer and James. (Lanette has since posted about this topic).  Marlena Compton joined in and it escalated. After a few tweets, she suddenly (and oddly) condemned the Context-Driven philosophy.

A follower supported her, tweeting “Context-Driven School implodes”, referencing the debate between Marlena and James, tagging Marlena’s tweet that the Context-Driven School was “sexist bullshit.”

Not sure how she made that leap. I’ve met Marlena, I’ve read her smart and thoughtful posts about data visualization and other technical topics. She’s never been one to like Twitter debates, but I was disappointed about how much anger she had so fast, deciding to condemn an entire testing philosophy after a few tweets with one of its founders — especially on a subject that was all about context — in this case, the context of gender in testing.

Though Marlena might have imploded that night, the Context-Driven School did not.  It was stronger and more affirming to me because gender may indeed have an important context in testing.

Marlena has since written a blog saying: “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.”

I was going to agree, but then I remembered Louann Brizendine’s two books: “The Male Brain” and “The Female Brain.”  In the latter, she writes: “scientists have documented an astonishing array of structural, chemical, genetic, hormonal, and functional brain differences between women and men.  We’ve learned that men and women have different brain sensitivities to stress and conflict. They use different brain areas and circuits to solve problems, process language, experience and store the same strong emotion.  Women may remember the smallest details of their first dates, and their biggest fights, while their husbands barely remember that these things happened.  Brain structure and chemistry have everything to do why this is so.”

With that, maybe we do need a “Women in Agile” organization.  Maybe women do have “special perspectives” by virtue of having something Brizendine calls a “female brain.” Should they be rewarded for that perspective, though? I still don’t think so.

Just when I was confused on which side of the issue I was on, Context came in to clarify it.  Actually, Context and Maura van der Linden, to be exact.  I’ve known Maura for years and I forgot how much I respect her judgment.  Forget my gender-neutral password security testing example above — Maura happens to *be* a security testing expert (author of the extremely useful “Testing Code Security“)!  But it was her most recent blog that clarified it for me:

“When I think of any group called “Women in X”, I immediately try to figure out what the purpose of the group is. I am never a fan of any type of diversity quotas or rules. But I consider that there are HUGE numbers of ways to be different from another person. Things like skillsets, experience, interest, hobbies, etc. Being a female is a part of my makeup but it’s only a small part of the puzzle. I’m more likely to consider myself an Agile tester or a security tester than I am a female tester because I don’t think being female is a major point I bring to the table.”

I don’t think being male is a major piece I bring to the table, but in the right context, it could be meaningful.  I just don’t want that meaning to qualify me in any way for rewards or recognition.

20 Responses to “Context: male, female, or N/A”

  1. James Bach Says:

    Being male *is* an important part of what I bring to the table. Also being American, being a Yankee, being in my 40’s, being self-educated, and being extroverted. And I am just going to shrug if some people, many people, or everyone on earth besides me don’t get this. I can’t control their feelings or their delusions. They can’t control mine.

    To say that being male is important to me is not to say that being female is bad. But it’s a different experience, and it’s a difference that matters to me and that I act upon. Furthermore, it’s a difference that– obviously– matters to nearly everyone and that nearly everyone acts upon. It’s simply an insult to our intelligence and an attack on our integrity to claim otherwise.

    We can respect people who are not like us without denying differences among us, especially if they are relevant not only personally but to the work we do. In the social life of projects, these differences are indeed relevant.

  2. paircoaching Says:

    You make a few assuptions about WIA that are wrong: you say you can’t contributed because you are not a women that is wrong. I’m part of workgroup, I’m male. And I’m not the only one.

    JB: I didn’t say I couldn’t contribute. I said “I’m not included”, but that was vague. I meant: “I’m not eligible to be recognized in the way the program was designed, because I’m male.”

    I joined the project because everytime I am on a male team and a women is added to the team, it changes the whole team culture.

    JB: In what way?

    And yes we need more diversity. That is not a reason to stop this project that is only about women.

    This is a diversity we have statistics on (because it is easy to track)

    JB: Where can I find these statistics that makes you say that? I assume you mean “easy” because someone counted the number of women who say they are in the IT industry and compared that to the number of men?

    For me the project is not about rewarding women for being special, it’s about bringing the attention to other women that we in IT could use their skills.

    JB: What skills do only women tend to bring that men don’t, in your experience?

  3. meeta Says:

    Do you think this is worth a debate ?

    JB: I’m not trying to cause a debate. I’m inviting a conversation about whether it’s worth recognizing testers for their accomplishments because they are women or if it does more harm than good. I was also taking issue with Marlena Compton (and her supporter), who said the Context-Driven School was “sexist”. I invite criticism, but I think that’s a ridiculous one.

    In my opinion ….it is just a view point …..
    You can create subforums around anything ………but should the professional atmosphere be biased towards gender or age ?????

    JB: I think the professional atmosphere might be biased toward all kinds of things, for good reasons and for bad. I want to explore how and why. I think that’s useful and relevant.

    I dont agree with people who say ‘yes’………
    reason …..very simple………
    1. I do the same work
    2. I get paid the same
    3. I have similar skills
    4. I spend similar amount of time at work
    5. I get the same career graph

    My Question-

    So what will this un-necessary and irrelevant discussion teach me more towards doing better at my job ?

    Answer I got was “Nothing”

    That left me with only 1 thought ……dont bother …..

    JB: I try to relate everything in my life to testing and how it might make me better or more valuable. Sounds like you have a different philosophy on that. I don’t feel it is unnecessary or irrelevant to invite discussion on what you bring to a team because you’re female or because I’m male. If you lead a team of all females, and I join, do you think the team will be better or worse? Will you be better in your job because I’m there, or will I be a distraction? If I contribute a good idea, should I be rewarded because I’m male?

    When my job was being offshored last year at LexisNexis, most of the Indian testers assigned to me were women. To get to know them, I sat at their lunch table. They were giggling the whole time as I tried their homemade food. Was it a culture clash? I don’t know, but clearly my presence changed their dynamic. I think it’s useful to talk about why. You’re free to bow out of that discussion, but I think you might have some insight.

    • meeta Says:

      Do you think this is worth a debate ?

      JB: I’m not trying to cause a debate. I’m inviting a conversation about whether it’s worth recognizing testers for their accomplishments because they are women or if it does more harm than good. I was also taking issue with Marlena Compton (and her supporter), who said the Context-Driven School was “sexist”. I invite criticism, but I think that’s a ridiculous one.

      Even I thought Marlena’s comments were ridiculous. She was not seeing the objectivity that you and James were highlighting. She made it a personal / feminist issue rather than professional. My feel was that the tweets were becoming reactive rather responsive. They were no where near to conversations in my perception. Hence the remark.
      If you are actually looking for a conversation around this, I am game.

      In my opinion ….it is just a view point …..
      You can create subforums around anything ………but should the professional atmosphere be biased towards gender or age ?????

      JB: I think the professional atmosphere might be biased toward all kinds of things, for good reasons and for bad. I want to explore how and why. I think that’s useful and relevant.

      But this underlying thought process was not coming out in the tweet exchanges. The focal point was only gender.

      I dont agree with people who say ‘yes’………
      reason …..very simple………
      1. I do the same work
      2. I get paid the same
      3. I have similar skills
      4. I spend similar amount of time at work
      5. I get the same career graph

      My Question-

      So what will this un-necessary and irrelevant discussion teach me more towards doing better at my job ?

      Answer I got was “Nothing”

      That left me with only 1 thought ……dont bother …..

      JB: I try to relate everything in my life to testing and how it might make me better or more valuable. Sounds like you have a different philosophy on that. I don’t feel it is unnecessary or irrelevant to invite discussion on what you bring to a team because you’re female or because I’m male. If you lead a team of all females, and I join, do you think the team will be better or worse? Will you be better in your job because I’m there, or will I be a distraction? If I contribute a good idea, should I be rewarded because I’m male?

      When my job was being offshored last year at LexisNexis, most of the Indian testers assigned to me were women. To get to know them, I sat at their lunch table. They were giggling the whole time as I tried their homemade food. Was it a culture clash? I don’t know, but clearly my presence changed their dynamic. I think it’s useful to talk about why. You’re free to bow out of that discussion, but I think you might have some insight.

      Sir…I eat, drink, live and sleep on testing…..🙂
      when I said “better at my job”….I meant TESTING. I have no difference in philosophy on that !!

      I dont care who works on my team ….who so ever is part of the team just needs to do good job. Who so ever does a good job gets awarded.

      Sorry, if you felt I am justifying / defending ….. I am much better at speaking than writing🙂
      We’ll discuss whenever you are available. I have very strong opinion around this and definitely would like to converse (not debate :)) with you on this.

      and I can definitely explain the reaction of Indian women at lunch table :)….. It is more to do with history of India and the culture rather than anything else.

  4. Lanette Says:

    The Diversity in Agile project isn’t about testing. It never was. It’s supposed to be about Agile. It was started by a male. How did this become about testing or Context-Driven? That confused me.

    JB: It became about testing when I framed it about testing. It became about Context-Driven when Marlena called the Context-Driven School “sexist”. I was reacting to that.

  5. paircoaching Says:

    So because the program does not focus on you, you don’t care?

    JB: No. It is a sexist recognition system. I undertsand that’s the point — to encourage more women, not men, but I do not think this achieves that.

    In what way the culture changed? That was always totally different.
    It was noticable every time. I don’t have proof for that, it is my opinion.

    JB: How was it different? I want you to tell me what you noticed.

    Yes with easy I mean you can just look at the teams and see how many men or women we have.

    JB: That’s what I thought. That’s a sloppy way of thinking we need more diversity. I understand that it’s your opinion, and that’s ok, but you’re telling me it’s not scientific. Some test teams I have been on have ALL been women. Should I let that be the basis of starting a “Men In Testing” group?

    It’s is not one specific skill that only women have.
    It’s about diversity.

    JB: You’re dodging the question. What skills do women have, in your opinion, that creates the diversity you seek?

    @Meeta:

    Maybe there is not a problem for you. If that is the same for all women in IT, why are here so many women in IT?

    Maybe that discussion will not bring you anything, what about other women? What about 16 year old girls that are thinking about IT or not.
    I hope that this movement show them that IT is an option.

    • Lanette Says:

      Whoa! Why would you assume that because it doesn’t focus on me that I wouldn’t care? Please take a look at what I actually said, not an assumption that I don’t care. Jon said in this post that this was about women in testing, and I don’t think that is the case. I hope that female developers and maybe even someone transgendered will be featured.

      Before this conversation started on twitter I made a blog about it. That blog is here: http://blog.testyredhead.com/2010/06/04/diversity-in-agile-project.aspx

      I was talking only of the diversity in Agile project which is lead by Mike Sutton, not how it started.

      • paircoaching Says:

        @Lanette I was not talking about you: I was talking about John’s remark: “I meant: “I’m not eligible to be recognized in the way the program was designed, because I’m male.””

        I wrote my first remark before I saw your post.

        OK: I understand your point better, about Mike leading this.
        Mike is leading the ‘Diversity in Agile project’. Women is the topic of this year. The way the project is going was decided with lot’s of interaction (with women).

    • meeta Says:

      Pairedcoaching (I do not know your identity to refer you by name !😦 )……..I have just one simple question for you:

      If your objective is exactly what you state here, then……

      Why is the focus on “Women in IT” ???

      Why are you not emphasizing on “Women and IT ” ???

      In my viewpoint, the latter will make more sense for all those kids who are looking for pointers towards decision-making.
      Role model does not always help to follow blindly.

      But a career guidance with what all you can do, options available with pros and cons substantiated with examples of “Women achievers in IT” may help them better to make right choices towards their careers.

      • YvesHanoulle Says:

        @Meeta: I comment with YvesHanoulle, which is translated to PairCoaching I did not realize that. Please don’t call me boss. There is no hierachy between us.

        I like the “Woman and IT” that is a much better name.

        I don’t like the “Woman achievers in IT”, that feels like a too strong focus on “Achieving”.

        On the diversity in agile mailing lists we also talked about a network of rolemodels, that I think can resemble what you talk about for options.

        Yves
        http://www.hanoulle.be

  6. paircoaching Says:

    @Lanette: what makes you say it was started about a male?
    It started after Agile2009 by lot’s of women feeling frustrated about the gordon pask award.

  7. Lanette Says:

    The website which mentioned the Diversity in Agile project was started by Mike Sutton in response to a discussion at Agile 2009.

  8. Curtis Says:

    Diversity groups providing the opportunity for someone to mentor or be mentored by individuals sharing common experiences and paradigms is a good thing as it taps into talent pools which otherwise might be wasted. Quota systems are not good things as they simply take a perceived injustice and attempt to address it by putting another in its place. Companies (and countries) that want to remain successful must practice a system of meritocracy where people are rewarded solely for their accomplishments. Of course a true meritocracy is only possible if all talent is nurtured and given the same opportunities. This often means pairing like-with-like for mentoring.

    For instance, I would probably be at a loss when advising a woman who’d just been interviewed by a person who stared at her chest the entire time. I’ve never borne the brunt of inappropriate but not blatantly offensive behavior so my advice would be strictly theoretical. This is just an example, but I think it may demonstrate my point. Since a majority of upper management positions in IT are still occupied by males, I as a male have a built in mentor system I can tap should I feel the need to seek out advice. I could see how it would be more difficult for someone else to do the same.

  9. Maura van der Linden Says:

    I just read the WIA program description web-page and now have a better idea of what the program encompasses. At it’s root, it seems to be a multimedia presentation showing the successes of these women nominated and the differences they have made to their Agile teams.

    On the surface, I can see the desire to show examples of success as a potential motivator to the class you wish to see more of but it confuses me in some ways as well. I’m equally motivated by male role-models or role-models in other ways differently diverse than myself. I’m also not necessarily attracted by what I read as sub-text in the page that Agile is “easier” for women in the somewhat tricky IT industry.

    Maybe I’m too prone to letting my Type-A-ness rule? Maybe I don’t mind a good battle off and on or a lively discussion I may or may not “win”? Not sure there but I do think there’s an aspect of personality that ties into it. Either way, it bothered me.

    But, to me, a multimedia presentation would not, on its own, be very impactful. If I were to take part in something like this, *I* would rather make some impact as a mentor or advisor to people interested in testing broadly or Agile in more particular. Has any thought been given to this sort of direct action vs. a presentation?

    Or how about removing this obvious hot-button and talking about Diversity in Agile as a whole. Get different people and explain their diversity, including some of those whose interesting knowledge is not a visibly identifiable thing. Celebrate the true diversity in Agile or Testing as a whole. (yah, scope explosion there). Show examples of how diversity in the Agile TEAM brought about a big win and why.

    I guess my issue is the use of a subset group (women) to show diversity. That’s a tad like saying “we serve diverse food” but the only items on the menu are okra, hominy and grits because that’s what the restaurant owner feels need to be more welcome in restaurants. I don’t buy the idea of showing diversity in this way.

    That said, I’m all for trying to fix things you see are broken. I volunteer a good amount of my time for mentoring, talking to small groups and even internet brainstorming. There is passion there and I’d like to see it succeed.

    In response to James’ early post. I don’t deny I’m a woman. I don’t hide it and I don’t downplay it. It is part of me and, yes, it does mean I grew up differently than a man in some ways. But I doubt that Lanette and myself, both women, are equivalents. I’m certain we have different viewpoints on a lot of things but may share others.

    I’ve fought for years that diversity does not mean ignoring differences. They are not ignorable. They are valuable and deserve recognition and exploration/discussion. But is this the right way to do it?

    I don’t feel being a woman should give me a magic entry card or dispensation. I don’t want to be a checkmark on someone’s diversity quota.

    So you can see why I have mixed feelings🙂

    JB: Awesome post, Maura. Thank you for this. Like your blog, it says a lot in few words.

  10. Marie (reewal) Says:

    Thanks Jon for this post and the twitter conversation – this has been a very interesting topic – and one that rears it’s head from time to time. It is something that I don’t really pay much attention to until it’s pointed out to me.

    I have been on some very interesting teams over the years – some where I have been the only female, which I didn’t realise until 6 months into the project when a woman from a different part of the company asked “how does it feel to be the only woman on a male-dominated team”…. after I picked my jaw up off the ground… I told her that it wasn’t male-dominated – that I hadn’t really noticed – I was so focussed on the work that I didn’t realise I was the only female. I personally don’t let these things bother me – I am able to hold my own in a team, regardless of gender. I’ve also been on teams which have had more females to males – again – until someone pointed out that “gees, it’s unusual to see so many females in IT”, only then was it brought to my attention.

    When I hire testers for projects, I don’t look at their gender – to me, it’s all about what skills and experience that they bring to the table. The current project that I’m hiring for – I need technically minded testers – I have a large data migration and conversion aspect to my project. My schedule is very tight – and I can’t afford to be hiring someone based on balancing out the gender ratio.

    In Brisbane (Australia) – the testing gene pool is very shallow – there are only a few good testers on the market (all the others are currently in contracts). I’m all about encouraging EVERYONE to consider testing as a career – as it is a career that I’m very passionate about, and I see a need for more experienced testers in the Brisbane market.

    I think the topic of conversation should really be “how do we encourage more people into IT?” There are some jobs out there that don’t really interest people – personally, I couldn’t be a nurse, doctor, etc – as it is something that really doesn’t interest me – regardless of any rewards or accolades that may be thrown my way. [I have a bit of an aversion to blood and innards😉 ]. I have friends that are in the trade industry, and can’t understand how I could “sit in front of a computer all day” for a job – yet, I can’t understand how they can “wallow around in other peoples sewage” [my plumber friends]

    The concept of rewarding a person should always be based on that person going above and beyond the “norm”. I feel Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory should be rewarded with the work they have done in promoting Agile testing – I follow their careers, and their discussions on twitter, blogs, etc. I also feel people like James Bach, James Whittaker, Jon Bach, etc should be rewarded for the new ideas and concepts that they bring to testing – and keeping testing up to date and fresh, especially in environments where the technology is changing rapidly.

    I think I’ve ranted enough – my main point to all of the above is: “People” should be recognised and rewarded for what they contribute to an industry. “Gender” is not something that should be rewarded. As soon as you start bringing gender into the equation, you end up starting to walk on egg-shells so as to avoid insulting people (which I’ve probably done in these comments – but hey – these are my opinions).

    JB: Great post, Marie. I’m surprised I’m not being more attacked on this issue, but if I am, all I have to do is point to this response which echoes what I believe. Thanks, too for the kind mention above.

  11. Oliver Says:

    I have worked with and led test teams with all men, all wimmen and mixed. In my 10 years of testing I have never needed to act on gender issues. Not because I am ignoring them or am insensitive or anything like that. No, I think because all testers I have so far dealt with were individuals and professionals.

    Wimmen and men definitely have noticably different traits but I tend to think these are not really test related things (although they have an impact). I do welcome the influences of both sexes and think mixed teams make the best teams. I don’t have any proof for that statement but I don’t need any to be convinced. My experience so far has proven me right.

    What I find sad is this whole discussion about it. It broke something inside me. I was happy in my context-driven-testing twitterverse. Everyone discussing and contributing directly to the craft. Now were broken with peope at each others throats and getting overly emotional.

    JB: I’m sad that a discussion broke something in you. Have you considered (as a tester) that it didn’t break something, but *revealed* something in you? From what I can tell so far, it was one person who reacted allergically to James, and one who supported her. What that revealed in you is something you may want to talk *more* about, not less.

    This can’t be the right way to go about this. Can we please somehow make up, embrace diversity as we did before and get back to the task at hand? PLEASE?

    JB: I don’t understand. Discussing emotional issues like discrimination is not the right way to go about solving it? I disagree. Besides, I think you’re missing the point. I *do* embrace diversity, and no one I know is against it. However, I have a duty to fight against shallow systems that although meant to help, actually do the opposite, in my opinion. Badly done, they force our differences, not integrate them. Singling out women and giving them a cookie for being a good tester is pretty sexist, in my opinion. The task-at-hand on this blog is to spend time talking about facets of our humanity (like this issue) that may affect people on testing projects. Topics like this give us all a chance to test and define ourselves. It helps to truly know each other. Pursuing common ground after that is a choice not all humans make, but it can only be made after issues like this test us and, like software, reveal to everyone our programming that makes us who we are.

  12. Lisa Crispin Says:

    Reading some of the posts about the Women in Agile project, I am mystified as to whether the people writing them have actually *read* the Women in Agile site. There is no mention of a prize – because there is no prize.

    That might have been me, using hyperbole to make a point in another argument on another thread. I know there is no prize, but I’m glad you emphasized that.

    The project mission includes things like:
    support of under-represented groups
    Attracting more women to agile development
    Extending the global presence of the Agile Alliance
    Promote strong community focus

    Would someone please give me examples of what exactly is so inflammatory in the information presented on the site http://sites.google.com/site/diversityinagile/project-definition ?

    I thought it smacked of reverse sexism. I have since had great conversations with female colleagues who supported my initial impressions but also gave me things to consider about the need to promote diversity (like socialization issues for women, transgender bias, privilege and stigma in other countries, etc.)

    We will edit and correct it if we are somehow communicating the wrong message.
    thanks
    Lisa

  13. Workplace Diversity: Why diversity can ignite innovation and guarantee success « Testing in The Wild West Says:

    […] a group is productive, if not necessary.  As a counter, Jon Bach has recently blogged in favor of a form of meritocracy were an ideal of “its the work, stupid” should define us as gender neutral.  Finally […]

  14. Post Context: Here are the tweets that led to my diversity post Says:

    […] brothers in the transcript.  Unsurprisingly, James Bach has blocked me from his twitter account.  Jon Bach has also blogged his version of what happened on twitter.   I hope people draw their own conclusions based on the actual conversation rather than relying […]

  15. Eusebiu Blindu Says:

    I think everyone has some obsessions more or less or something that is true can be an actual disadvantage. And when we have some problems or someone has a difference of opinion this can be triggered involuntary due to the charge that we accumulate.

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