Seek a topic, not a gender

Natalie Warnert

Women in Agile and its members frequently receive requests to recommend female speakers because apparently they are hard to find. While I appreciate the effort and attention to gender parity, I feel like asking for female speakers is the wrong approach. It feels more about a quota than caring about the quality and the expertise of the speakers themselves. As a conference organizer I wouldn’t want to get called out for not having enough diverse speakers on a panel, but as a speaker I also don’t want to feel that the token reason I was chosen was because of my gender. Conferences need to challenge themselves to consider what their outcome is for a more diverse lineup of speakers, not just diversity for diversity’s sake.

This blind recommendation approach to seeking female speakers, however well intentioned, is not the best or most sustainable approach. Female speakers are not hard to find. They are out there, prevalent, and speaking at local meet ups, regional gatherings and at large conferences. In the conferences I’ve attended recently, I’ve seen as many as 60 percent female with about 30-35 percent being the average (increased in the last 5 years from 20-25 percent). I’m not saying this is good enough or we should stop seeking out diversity, but a blind quota is not the way. Conferences can be better allies and achieve more diversity by asking for what topics they are looking for, making clearer submission guidelines, offering travel compensation (at minimum), and marketing more broadly for speakers, particularly keynotes.

When I am asked to recommend a speaker (regardless of gender) I first ask what topic they are looking for. That is much more relevant to my recommendation than the gender of the speaker I may recommend (thought it likely will be a woman because I know a lot of great ones). This helps speakers to promote their brand and expertise in something they’re truly polished in for an audience and conference that is looking for just that niche. It’s a win-win!

Sometimes the argument is that women just don’t submit, regardless of the topic. A symptom of this is the black hole that conference submission systems can be. They have gotten better over the years, but many still feel like a secret club where things go in and only rejections come out. To help the entire agile conference community make these more transparent, explain clearly what each section is looking for (e.g. more information for the reviewers = give me an outline with time stamps for your presentation), post a sample submission that is great, allow reviewers to leave feedback to help submitters refine their ideas. Think about doing blind submissions with no names to avoid any inherent bias (it does exist). Yes, this is more work but the results are much higher quality and submission numbers and diversity increase. Imposter syndrome is real, so let’s take some of the risk out to increase the ideas that flow in.

Compensation is difficult for smaller conferences, but not impossible. Even offering just a small travel stipend (hotel night and a flight voucher) makes a huge difference. My primary thesis research showed that the second most common reason women are less involved in the agile community than men (in regards to speaking, blogging, etc.) is that their companies do not offer financial support to do so. There are many sponsors that would be willing to sponsor travel to increase diversity or maybe knock down your keynote or catering fees a bit to help with this – we know it costs money! Regardless of what you do, Women in Agile encourages speaker fee transparency from the start of the submission process so submitters can make an informed decision before they submit (if you are uncomfortable posting what you’re paying that’s an indicator that there may not be enough inclusion – hard truth).

Finally, market more broadly for more diverse speakers. Don’t use the usual channels exclusively. Twitter is great but try your local meetups too (I guarantee you have them). Post on LinkedIn groups, ask to use our Women in Agile reach for the topics you are looking for or utilize our Launching New Voices program to help develop new speakers through pairing them with mentors. Don’t just keep going back to your friends and the same voices as that isn’t helping increase diversity of ideas and voices.

Female speakers are prevalent and want to be recognized and sought out because of their talent, passion, and expertise. Make that apparent in your requests and try new things when trying to increase diversity of thought and ideas. Last but certainly not least, ensure your conference has a posted code of conduct that all participants agree to. This may seem small, but it goes a long way to show all participants that their safety is important. Myself and many others will not speak at conferences that do not have a code of conduct. You are welcome to start with ours.

Want more information? Have thoughts? Reach out to us at

The value of an Agile Coach – or Football coach.

As I sit here today, three days from Super Bowl LIII, I’m thinking of two things.  First, will the Patriots win the Super Bowl this year? And second, why do companies not understand the value of an agile coach?

It made me think about the Patriot’s coach, Bill Belichick, and his job as coach to, arguably, one of the best all-time football teams.  In comparison, an Agile coach for an organization that is shifting its culture.  What are the parallels? What are the differences?   Why do we call both of them a “coach”?

Bill Belichick doesn’t actually play football.  He’s not on the field, catching passes or blocking the opponent.  But, he’s considered the foremost guide on how the team actually should play on the field. Why?  Is it because he used to play football? Well, he actually did play football, during high school and college, but not professionally.  He just “gets it”, and is able to articulate that into guiding principles that the team can use to win games. 

He doesn’t tell the team what to do, he works with them on plays and strategies, and acknowledges that once they’re on the field, they’re going to have to think for themselves when things go sideways.  He helps them remember the goals, strategies and principles of football so that they can use them as needed in those situations.

How difficult would it be to coach that team if he was also a player?  Why can’t the quarterback, who is the leader/coach during the play do both? I bet none of the NFL would ever consider that. 

Let’s consider the agile coach in the same light.  She’s not on the team.  She doesn’t necessarily know how to code but she’s probably pretty familiar with the strategies that agile teams need to adopt to make their job work better.  She “gets it” and is able to articulate that into guiding principles that the team can use to be successful. 

She doesn’t tell the team what to do, she works with them on strategies and acknowledges that once they’re working, they’re going to have to think for themselves when things go sideways.  She helps them remember the goals, strategies and principles so that they can use them as needed in those situations.

How difficult would it be to coach that team if she was also a coder and busy working instead of seeing the whole of the team and how they work together?  Why can’t the scrum master, who is the leader/coach during the day to day operations of the team do both? 

Hmm.  I just realized that I repeated those two paragraphs, just about word for word, except for the type of coach.

I bet if we were to ask the NFL to quantify the value of their coaches in ROI and dollars, they’d be hard pressed to actually say how much BETTER the team is in comparison to if they had no coach at all.  They’d just say it’s impossible to NOT have a coach, let alone employ one just for the beginning of the season.  Early in the season, the Patriots were only winning 50% of the time.  If you were to measure Belichick’s value 4 games into the season, Robert Kraft would certainly be justified in firing him.  Who wants a coach with a 50% win-loss ratio? They would have fired possibly the coach of the next Super Bowl LIII Champions! (Or at least the second best depending on this weekend’s outcome).

All I know is that if Belichick were pulled from the Patriots right now, three days before the Super Bowl, the Patriots would lose.  So why would you stop paying for agile coaches while your teams are working toward achieving the goals of your organization? Do you still expect to win?  I wouldn’t bet on that game.

Wendy Avery – Enterprise Agile Coach

Making Safety a Prerequisite for Your Meetups

by Anjali Leon, South Florida Women in Agile group

Meetups have awakened new possibilities for people who have similar interests to find each other and meet face to face to learn, share, and expand their common interests.  

Creating one of these special interest groups is as easy as creating an account on and sponsoring a new group for $89.00 for 6 months.  Add a compelling description, a geographic location, and sprinkle a few search keywords to attract people with a similar interest, and you have created a special space for connection!   Once you have announced the venue and topic for your first meetup, you can sit back and watch the magic of the internet unfold. People who were once strangers start joining the group and become part of a growing network and community.

Who can join a meetup?  Who can show up to an event?  Well, the beauty in the model is that anybody can join.  And that is also the  scary part!

In 2015, I founded South Florida Women in Agile and have organized monthly events with my co-organizer, Colleen Esposito ever since.  As organizers we have the pleasure of creating a unique space for curiosity, connection, co-creation, and community to emerge—and we also shoulder the responsibility to do what we can to ensure the safety of the people who attend our meetups as well as the security of the organizations that offer their venues to host our events. While always hoping the extra effort is unnecessary, we do our due diligence to create a physically and psychologically safe space for all our members.

Here are some tips that may help you make safety a prerequisite for your own meetup groups.

Vet potential members

Include a verification step before anyone joins the meetup.  Acceptance into our meetup group is a 2-step process where one of the meetup organizers needs to officially approve a new member.

Get a sense of whether the new member is a good fit for your group.  We ask each potential member 3 questions about their Agile experience, their role in the organization, and what they hope to get from the group.

Verify the new member’s identity.  We check that the potential member’s profile includes their full name and valid photo and, if not, we ask them to update their profile.  We then verify the member’s identity on another social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or similar.

Publish and enforce a code of conduct

Add a code of conduct to your meetup description and let any new member know they are expected to abide by that code of conduct.  We use the official Women In Agile code of conduct to address the values and intentions of our group.

Do not tolerate any behavior that violates the code of conduct.  Luckily, we have never had to call out a violation of the code of conduct (so far).

Make the meetup location only visible to people who sign up

When posting a new meetup, select the option of making the meetup location only visible to people who sign up in order to deter unexpected attendees.

Verify and keep a record of attendees

If you are hosting your meetup at a company, send the attendee list to your contact at least 2 days prior to the meetup.  Some hosting organizations require the attendee list to be vetted by their security department—it may be a bit of a pain, but well worth the effort.

Ask your attendees to sign in so that you have a record of everyone who attended.

Facilitate connections

Send a welcome note to new members letting them know what they can expect from the meetup and remind them about the code of conduct.

Personally welcome each member at the meetup—especially those attending for the first time.  And make a conscious effort to remember their names.

Allow time for networking.  Facilitate a simple ice breaker when possible.

Offer snacks and refreshments.   Food is a great connector.

Share information about upcoming events.  We regularly share information about other Agile meetups and events.

Create opportunities for members to contribute and connect.  Facilitate events where everyone gets to participate and solicit topics for a future meetup.  Engage members to facilitate or host a meetup. Enlist them to volunteer for a local event or encourage them to bring a friend to an upcoming meeting.  Ask them to help grow the group.

I hope you find these safety tips useful, reasonable, and practical. Use (for LinkedIn:  the comment section ) our #Slack channel to share your own tips for making psychological and physical safety a built-in prerequisite for all of your fantastic future meetups.

2018 Launching New Voices – Suzi’s Experience

By: Susan (Suzi) Webber @SuziWebb

What I Learned About Speaking from Launching New Voices

I’m an introvert.  At cocktail parties, I’m the one over on the couch by myself talking to the dog. I pin the needle WAY over on the introvert side. Giving presentations is not something I usually feel comfortable doing. And I’m never the person that people recognize at conferences and want to talk to. Agile 2018 was different, and it was all because of Women in Agile.

Embracing Uncertainty

When I submitted a proposal for Launching New Voices, I had a vague idea floating around in my head, and I thought that being given a deadline would help me clarify my thinking. I thought it might also give me the opportunity to develop relationships with some kindred spirits, something I felt was lacking in my life.

When I received the email saying my proposal had been accepted, I was excited, but more than a little frightened.

Would I be able to create a good presentation?

What if I freeze in front of the audience?

What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t like me?

Not the most powerful self-talk when you’re about to embark on something that requires you to take a leap. But I was in it, and I wasn’t going to give up before I even got started.

Being Vulnerable

At our first conversation, my mentor Llewellyn Falco jumped right in and said: “Ok, give me the presentation”.

“I don’t have a presentation yet. I just have an idea.”

“That’s ok, we’ll iterate.”

He wasn’t kidding. The first run through was a rambling mess. But approximately 30 iterations and many hours later, I had a presentation. And not one with a few slides with bullets. An ACTUAL presentation that I felt had a strong focus and would engage the audience.

Llewellyn was a taskmaster, giving me homework, asking me to develop a story, then helping me to distill the most important idea. He encouraged me to think about how to build a relationship with the audience and help them to make a connection to their own lives. It required me to be vulnerable in a way that was uncomfortable but was the key to being able to present something that was authentic and engaging.

I could not have done it without him pushing me to stretch and giving me not only the practical tips he had from speaking, but also the encouragement to keep working. But one of the most important things was that I wasn’t doing it alone. I had someone on my side.

Finding My Voice

When it came time to present, I expected that I would get up on stage, give my talk, and that would be the end of it. I thought I’d be relieved it was over.

I was wrong.

I immediately wanted to do it again! Maybe it was just adrenaline, but three weeks later I’m still energized by the experience. I still want to pursue other opportunities to present the talk, and I still want to expand it. Every couple of days I jot down an idea for a new viewpoint or concept to add to the presentation.

Enjoying the Afterglow

It never occurred to me that people might recognize me later on and go out of their way to mention how the presentation resonated with them. It felt like every meal, every elevator ride, every session, someone would tell me that they had a similar situation, and appreciated my perspective.

I confess that I spent the rest of the week trying to recapture the positive energy and camaraderie that was present that afternoon and during the conversations that were sparked by the event. It allowed me to have a much richer experience at Agile 2018, and make genuine connections with people that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to create.

Was it a ton of work? Yes. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

When you’re trying to juggle a family and a job, it’s so all-encompassing that it’s hard to make the effort to do something that forces you to paint outside the lines. Launching New Voices did just that for me. And I’m a lot more colorful for it.

Check out a video of Suzi’s talk here.

2018 Launching New Voices – Faranzeh’s Experience

By: Faranzeh Orak @FarzanehOrak

Speaking at Women in Agile 2018 was one of the neatest things happened to me.  It was not only a challenge for me to start public speaking front of a large crowd at an actual conference but also very interesting to meet a community who were there for your success – people who flew miles to be present and show their support. They were there to empower women in technology and share their stories, and whoever I met made me feel welcome and happy to accept this challenge.

Two months before the conference day, I met with the organizers and the rest of the speakers. After pairing mentors and mentees, speakers from last year introduced themselves and shared their experience with us. At the end of the conference call, they asked us to make sure schedule the next meeting with our mentors.

My mentor was Cheryl M Hammond. Right after the meeting, she and I had about a two-hour-long phone call. Cheryl was so curious about what I planned to talk about, and I was so curious to know her opinion. After she listened to me, she gave me her feedback, and we planned our next meeting. During the two following months, we met at least once a week. Every week, she would give me the constructive feedback, and I did my best to apply them in my talk. Working with her and knowing her was a blessing.

Finally, the conference day came I was very excited, but at the same time nervous. Cheryl and I planned to meet in person one day before the conference and on the conference day. A few of my friends decided to come to support me, and having Cheryl and friends around made me feel supported. Everyone I met made me feel welcome. I truly felt this crowd wanted me to succeed and that helped me to calm down and be proud.

The conference started with introducing the organizers and then the keynote. The keynote was by April Wensel, founder of Compassionate Coding. Her keynote was about Expanding Your Circle of Compassion for Greater Impact. It was a very impactful talk she starts with encouraging women to be themselves and that they should not change themselves in order to be a fit within the tech industry. She shared her life journey when she was unhappy, despite being successful at her job because she was trying to change herself in order to be accepted as a smart and good software engineer. And then, she continues with a very insightful quote by Raj Sisodia “We’re fortunate enough to be living in a time when feminine qualities such as Relationships, Nurturing, compassion, vulnerability, caring, and cooperation are finally being recognized, not as signs of weakness but as sources of incredible strength.” Which basically helped her to accept and appreciate what she brought to the table as a female. She finished the keynote by encouraging everyone to empower compassion by accepting who we are and respecting others as who they are.

The second session of the conference was lean coffee which was focused on the obstacles for women in the technology field. The crowd split into groups to discuss stereotypes and issues that many women deal with daily at their workplace or even society.

Each group had to discuss one topic that was assigned and then brainstorm on the potential solutions. I found it very informative when I heard different experiences and perspectives of other women in my team. We discussed “sometimes being young and positive/happy might cause other employees or managers don’t take you seriously.” I heard so many interesting perspectives. I realized two things:

  1.     There are many people who are dealing with the same stereotypes daily
  2.     Although we have so many obstacles for women in this field, we have a strong and genuine community who are trying to introduce the right culture and change the perspective

It felt very relieving to see such a community and how passionate they are. It made me see a much brighter future for our technology field culture.

The New Voices’ session started with a talk from Susan Webber. Her talk was very impactful where she spoke of applying her experiences working in the group at work to her son, which helped her step out of mother and son role. Instead of demanding, she considered her son emotions and thoughts, they were able to share in the decision-making process instead of her making decision for him.

After Susan’s talk, it was my turn to go on the podium and talk. My talk was about my journey, and I called it “What is in your head, it is going to be in your hands,” but I think actually a more appropriate name could be “Turn the universe in your power.”

I talk about my journey where I started as a girl who couldn’t find an address using GPS map to a woman who draws a map of complex system which it goes on the first page of internal application and gets presented to so many people (stakeholders, leaders, new employees and etc.…) in a few years.

I talk about finding my passion for computer science but having so many obstacles along the way.

I talk about when I didn’t let failure defeat me, and I promised myself to keep moving forward and pursue my passion.

How I applied for graduate school (for the second time), and I get admitted, and two years later I graduated as an honor student from a graduate program in computer science.

I talked about how my passion for programming helped me to use all my power and resources around me to keep improving my technical skill and contribute to the community.

Growing in my field was my dream so I put all of myself and heart to it, study for hours after work, going to different user groups to know the community and volunteering in different events to give back to the community.

In the end, I talk about how through my journey I learned to:

  •      believe in myself
  •      accepting the failures as part of the growth
  •      don’t let my fears stop me, put myself out there the outcome is always good
  •      Sharing, always share what you learned with other people there are people like you a few years ago who need your help and information- giving back to the community.

Women in Agile was a great experience for me. I learned about this community who are there to support and accept women in tech. These people truly believe in the Raj Sisodia quote I mentioned above, and they want you to be successful because they have experienced many obstacles during their career and now they want to use their power and experience to make a better future for the current and next generation.

And finally, I felt amazing by challenging myself, learning more and gaining new experiences as a new voice in Women in Agile 2018.

Check out a video of Faranzeh’s talk here.