Women in Agile @Agile2018

By: Joanna Vahlsing @joannavahlsing

The Women in Agile Conference at Agile2018 was sold out this year at 230 registrants and a waitlist dozens long. Last year we had over a hundred participants, and the year before that around 80. Love all the support for the Women in Agile community. Videos of the event can be found at the bottom of the Agile Alliance initiative page.

Natalie Warnert kicked us off with a warm welcome, an overview of the logistics of the event and really spoke to the reasons why the work we’re doing is so important, and that everyone there was playing a role.

She turned it over to Paul Hammond and Becky Hartman, who gave a brief update to the Code of Conduct and asked for participation in a voting exercise on the frequency of various issues that one may have experienced and/or witnessed. This information was used in the Agile Tonight segment later that week, where there was be a session on diversity and inclusion and ideas for how to be more proactive to help elevate the learning for everyone. Psychological safety was also a topic.

Then it was time to welcome April Wensel, founder of Compassionate Coding to deliver our keynote. Her keynote was titled Expanding Your Circle of Compassion for Greater Impact.

She opened with her story of the career advice that she was given (which is typical for most women): For example, don’t say “I think” or “I feel,” “Stop apologizing,” don’t use emoji or exclamation marks and don’t use “uptalk.” Basically, she was being told, “stop being yourself.”

She also shared her training on Hypermasculine values:

There’s a belief that these values will lead to billionaire-level wealth. Basically, to be the “most efficient,” you needed to be a jerk. It worked, she was successful and “made a lot of money.” However, she was “deeply unhappy” and “did not like who she had become,” which lead her to write the blog post, Confessions of a Recovering Jerk Programmer.

It helped her see that these traits and behaviors were leading to people burning out and unhappiness and the more feminine traits that women typically bring to the table are being discouraged, which creates this high-stress environment. April believes that there is a balance – we need to appreciate what women bring to the work.

She then describes how the future is compassion. Compassion “helps them get there more quickly,” and while there are seeds, there isn’t compassion in action yet.

She spent time going over what compassion is not. It is not: pity (which doesn’t always include respect), niceness (sometimes you have to speak up in an unfavorable way), politeness (go against social norms) or people pleasing.

Compassion is minimizing the suffering and caring more, and it can be quite fierce. Compassion is when empathy and action come together.

We are all equipped to respond with both compassion and cruelty, and that response is our choice and then we can reflect. This is very true for the need for self-compassion. We need to have compassion for ourselves first and avoid the negative self-talk. Imagine that we’re talking to a puppy. Lack of self-compassion can happen when we compare ourselves to others.

The four circles of compassion are 1) For Self, 2) For Collaborators, 3) Users and 4) All Living Beings.

April includes Imposter Syndrome in the “For Collaborators” circle because she feels that Imposter Syndrome is created by the external expectations we perceive and try to apply to ourselves. She also mentions that we need to be mindful of a “contempt culture” where everyone tries to be the smartest person in the room.

The tips she shares for creation compassion with collaborators include: Empathy, Active Listening and letting go of Right/Wrong thinking (everything is based on perspective.

Other tips she shares include:

  • Realize everyone is technical. She wrote a blog post called, “If you can use a fork, you’re technical.
  • Get rid of the term RTFM
  • When giving feedback, first thing: 1) is it true, 2) is it necessary and 3) is it kind
  • Create Psychological Safety by not placing blame or shame.

In closing, she covered having empathy for users – is the tech that we’re creating engaging or addicting, and constantly ask the question, “how can the tech I’m building be abused?”

It was an amazing keynote, and the wonderful Tamsen Mitchell created the below graphic.

After the break, it was time to break into our groups for facilitated Lean Coffee topics. We had a lively discussion about the topics and were able to get a lot of great ideas and helpful content when the tables shared their biggest learnings.

Working session on ideas for how to support Women in Agile

After the final break, it was time for the Launching New Voices program.

Suzi Webber spoke on Working Collaboratively – the power for treating people like adults, where she shared a story of how she and her son worked through conflict and the techniques that she learned and applied. Suzi’s recap of her experience can be found here.

Then Farzenah Orak shared she very moving and motivating story about how she was able to overcome setbacks and reach her goals. Impressive all-around! Her recap of the experience can be found here.

It was a wonderful way to kick off the Agile2018 conference and looking forward to continued success. If you’re interested in helping Women in Agile, please reach out to info@womeninagile.org.