Thursday, January 18, 2018

I'm an awesome tester who also happens to be woman

At a test automation conference, I started talking with another participant. We exchanged details of the craft through name dropping and content appreciations. We talked about his upcoming talk, and I shared some ideas on the same topic. Excited on the discussion we were having, he decided to suggest I could do a lightning talk in the evening.

It was great that he suggested - I was not aware there was one, let alone that I could still get listed and that the voting was going on throughout the day. I immediately made up my mind.

But he continued: "we need women speaking".

I said nothing, more like shrugged. But decided to address it when speaking.

I introduced myself. I shared that I was here doing a lightning talk because another participant encouraged me to so that there would be women speaking. Needless to say, I was the only woman on the lightning talks round. I also mentioned that while it feels that my main reason to be here would be my gender, I'm here just as a person with credentials: that this is talk number 353 that I'm delivering, and that Kent Beck said yesterday he loved my book. I made a joke about it, because it was a better option for feeling uncomfortable than being silent about it.

After the talks, I talked again with the other participant. He apologized and invited ideas of how he could have better expressed his excitement on what I had potential on sharing. I suggested that reminding me on my gender (any woman on their gender) could be a pattern to avoid. They're already painfully aware.

The conference had no women in organizing committee.
There was one woman speaker out of 9 talks.
There were LOTS of women in the audience.

There's no absolute "best" in speakers. Speakers tell stories that are based on the life lived. We need diverse voices. What I said today to open my lightning talk was something that just happened to me: all three details on my 'credentials'. I bet no one encouraged any of the men in a gender-based fashion.

I make lists of awesome testers. Notice the list never mentions "awesome women testers". Because the qualifier of gender isn't relevant. They are awesome, just as they are. Yet looks like no one can share and promote that list without mentioning gender.


  1. As I see it, what you are saying is that we need diversity amongst speakers, but that people should be selected as speakers for what it is that they say, not for who they are.

    This has been a problem for conference organisers across a range of disciplines for a long time. In another life, I spent twenty years as a trade union representative in the UK Civil Service. Our union was anxious to make sure that all our committees and conferences were properly representative of the membership in terms of diversity, so that the decision-making bodies of the union reflected the diversity of the membership as a whole.

    In particular, our annual conference was something where we wanted that diversity to be clear; so we set up a training course to encourage under-represented groups to attend and take part. But we did not select speakers on the grounds of their ethnicity, or gender, or age; instead, we made certain that all felt able to attend and participate. What they then said, and how willing they were to stand up and say it, followed naturally from that. By seeing other people of all groups or none participating on an equal basis, with proper respect shown to their persons and any challenge in debate based on what they said, not who they were, others were encouraged to take part in the same way.

    The result was that the speakers at conference were a good mix of genders, ethnicities and orientations - in fact, just "people". Debate was certainly not stifled through speakers concentrating on what delegates said instead of who they were. But equally, the union never felt that their work on diversity was done; it was always an issue to make sure that future generations carried the same principles forward. And it had taken many years to reach the position that we had - and don't forget that this was a delegate conference of nearly 2,000 delegates, any of whom could ask to participate.

    You will see from my profile picture where I fit into the diversity spectrum; when I was going around our office promoting the training course, I was challenged by colleagues who, like me, were middle-aged men. "Why is the union promoting this? What about us?" My response was "If you were to go to Conference, you'd see that there is no shortage of blokes who look like you and me amongst the delegates. But just look around the office right here and now - we don't work in a homogenous office and we don't live in a homogenous city. All we're trying to do is to try to make sure that the union's conference is properly representative of the membership." He got the point.

    We need diverse voices; we need to be sure that our conferences are places where diversity can be respected. The rest is up to individuals, and whether someone speaks or not should be dependent on their having something to say. They shouldn't feel constrained by not feeling able to speak or to be taken seriously. And it's the job of conference organisers to ensure that does not happen and everyone who has something relevant to say and wants to say it, can.

  2. Maybe thats what your other participant should have introduced himself as " I am An Awesome tester that just happens to be a man"