Agile2019 – Recap Women In Agile

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!

Closing thoughts

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!

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.

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