Monday, September 1, 2014

Acceptance testers as IT professionals - are there really that few ladies in IT?

I'm puzzled. There was an article posted today in a Finnish non-IT magazine pointing out that IT-industry needs more women ( But I keep wondering if there are really that few women in IT, really?

I know the stats show less than every fourth person "professional in IT" is a woman. But who are these "professionals" - who's in and who is not?

There's one study that defines a professional as a member of the data processing association (1). There's another study that doesn't really define what their sample is (2) but looks into ideas of IT as career before choosing what you study and after that. The after selection part seems to imply a proper schooling in IT.

I studies computer science at Helsinki University of Technology and Tampere University of Technology, and got to experience what it's like to be really in the minority. I'm not questioning that. I remember in particular the annoyance I caused at Tampere, refusing to be in the room to be counted as a new female student, as I knew there was a bet on our number as I knew the routines having spent time in Helsinki circles before that. There's few women in IT specific education programs, I take those numbers as facts.

What bothers me though is the experience from the industry and the message we seem to be sending out emphasizing how few women there are. What if there are more women in IT, but we just exclude them when we count?

Inspired by this idea, I asked around at the office today on how many people we have in IT roles and how many of those are female. I got a confirmation: out of the team of 15 developers, I'm the only woman. And some were not sure if I should be counted even if I can program because I'm a tester. Our product management team has many women, in significantly higher portions than in development. They were not included. Let alone many of the other roles that participate in development - they are all excluded.

I also looked back at time I was working at an insurance company, leading acceptance testing. I had teams with tens of people, significantly contributing to the success of software development as testers. There were other teams, even larger, working as business specialists defining how the systems would work. These teams were female dominated, to the extent that I can recall one man out of the tens of ladies. When I was there, I often asked the acceptance testers if they identified as testers. They would tell me no, they identify with the business stuff - concepts of domain. If someone asked them if they are "IT professionals", they would say no. But they are. They got their salaries from IT work. It was better to not emphasize that, because "IT professionals" get paid more. My ideas of what salaries I can get as an IT professional were ridiculously high in my colleagues eyes.

I work with software testing. Our of the people that I see in trainings and seminars, women are not a minority. Sometimes it feels quite the opposite, men are a minority. There's significant differences between industry sectors though. But I fear that many of testers, in particular acceptance testers, are excluded from the counts. In 2012, asking the members of Finnish Association of Software Testing (FAST) how many of them are members of the data processing association, sample in (1), half of them were. And FAST is a subgroup of Sytyke, which is a subgroup of the data processing association.

To know the real numbers, we would have to define what level of contribution counts you in as "working in IT". If 20 % of your working days go into IT but the other work you do feeds into that, should you be counted? Everyone uses software (IT) so what actions towards creation of software get you to be counted? Do you personally need to identify before you count?

Perhaps that's the problem. As a tester, I get to be actively excluded from small scale counts on a team level. I identify with IT, so I get counted. But the ones who contribute but don't identify should be counted too.

Excluding people who contribute isn't going to make this a more lucrative profession for the future ladies. Learning programming is another thing, but could we start by realizing that there could be more ladies in IT than we've given credit for due to how we count the numbers?

The numbers could be right, they could be wrong. But the point is that we should actively get the people who contribute recognized within the field as relevant contributors. It's not a women thing, but it's a roles thing. The acceptance testers deserve to be included, even if that drives us towards users as "IT professionals". 

Or perhaps we believe in the lesser value of those contributions, with the ideas of test automation and agile in our ideas of realistic future with less failure demand? 

The refences, articles in Finnish: