By Cheryl Hammond, Co-Chair (WiA @ Agile20xx)
On the Sunday afternoon before Agile2019, the 300 people (our largest audience ever – sold out) in the Women in Agile community convened in Washington, D.C. for our annual, international, half-day conference. I’ve been privileged to be a part of these events since they began, and each year we’ve chosen a theme to organize our ideas and activities: 2016 Inform, 2017 Empower, 2018 Expand, and this year: Activate! (Being of a certain age, I can’t help thinking about Wonder Twin Powers whenever I say it…)
Code of Conduct
Before the conference even began, I had the privilege of sitting down with Paul Hammond (no relation, as far as we know) and Becky Hartman from the Agile Alliance Board, who would be presenting the Agile Alliance’s—and therefore, by extension, our—conference Code of Conduct later in the day. Every year, the Alliance has done meaningful work to further develop the Code of Conduct and how it’s presented, both at our conference and at the big Agile20xx event. At the kickoff of our event, we got to see them present the latest iteration, and both Becky and Paul spoke from the heart about how our Code of Conduct is intended to create a conference environment that actively welcomes those of us who haven’t always felt we belonged at a large tech industry gathering. I remember those days and that difference is personal for me!
Stephanie Thomas, founder of Cur8able and creator of the Disability Fashion Styling System™, shared her personal journey helping people with disabilities dress with confidence, dignity, and self-reliance. As a member of the conference program team, I came in familiar with Stephanie’s TEDx talk and her interview with Vox, among others, but the talk she shared with us was even more personal and relatable for Women in Agile than I expected. Years ago, Stephanie observed a lack of accessibility in the fashion industry—shutting out people with disabilities, their family and friends, and an estimated $6 trillion in their aggregate income—and initially assumed that large established design and retail systems would want to change when presented with data and rational argument. Sound familiar, agilists?
Stephanie had built a successful career in journalism and media while pursuing access as a “hobby”. Then she flipped the script, going back to college for an additional degree in fashion. That’s when she discovered that speaking the industry’s language opened doors that had previously been closed to her. Knowing how the industry worked gave her the power to claim her place in it and disrupt it. She activated her passion and made it her vocation!
Along the way, I appreciated learning more respectful ways to think about people with seated body types (a new term for me). Individuals may identify using either people-first or identity-first terminology, a good reminder to be open and curious about what matters to the person we’re talking to, rather than making assumptions.
Each year, we devote most of our conference time to collaboration, and in 2019 we used the World Café format to activate “neighborhoods” in our (big!) meeting space—groups of tables representing Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Chinatown, and Adams Morgan—around a series of three broad, ambitious questions:
- What is the commitment you hold that brought you into this space?
- What can we create together that will make a difference in our communities?
- What do I promise?
Yogita Dhond, Rose Hyde, and Kate Mountain served as our “baristas” for the day, shepherding each neighborhood through the process of idea generation and dissemination, of course with a healthy dose of networking and new productive relationships along the way. We wrote, drew, and laughed together as each table and neighborhood figured out how they wanted to engage with these questions and connect with others to activate creative ideas. Each neighborhood shared out key concepts, and we collected all the colorful table sheets at the end of the day to archive and browse later!
Launching New Voices
Capping off an energizing event, our inspiring New Voices speakers—women of promise with no prior national conference speaking experience—delivered three short talks that remind us how bright the future of Women in Agile truly is. Leah Burman shared the story of NASA’s 1969 Apollo program, the inspiring technical women who helped us get to the moon, and how agile principles are evident in their path to success; Nazee Hajebi helped us understand the impact of trauma, both physical and psychological, and how to create a safe environment for our teams to thrive; and Arundhati Dutta taught us ways to improve our coaching with concrete techniques for greater empathy. Leah and Arundhati have also shared their impressions of the conference overall!
We’ve only been doing LNV for a few years, but past protégés have already gone on to extraordinary careers as conference speakers and leaders in the WiA community. We’re excited to see where this year’s speakers’ journeys will take them!
On a whim, I asked from the stage how many in the audience were attending a Women in Agile conference for the first time, and I was so shocked by the percentage of upraised hands! Perhaps it was the Washington, D.C. effect—when I used to work in the public sector, every low-cost professional conference that didn’t require travel was a development opportunity to be seized. Still, I can’t help but think about the momentum we’ve built as an organization—Women in Agile became a 501(c)(3) non-profit this year—and the increase in attendance year over year, to the point that we’re now filling the Agile Alliance’s largest spaces to capacity with a wait list.
We can’t wait to see you next July 19 in Orlando, Florida. If you’re interested in serving as a volunteer organizer or an LNV mentor, or applying to speak as an LNV protégé, follow @womeninagileorg on Twitter to catch all our calls to Activate! in 2020 and beyond!
Thank you to our T-shirt sponsors of this event, Accenture|Solutions IQ and subscribe to our Women in Agile Podcast!