How Women Can Help Build Better Agile Teams

The IT industry is dominated by men. But you shouldn't hire more women just to lessen the gender gap. The ultimate goal is better teams, and it just so happens that hiring more women tends to help build better teams anyway. Companies should reexamine what traits they value in job candidates.

Let me start with a statement so obvious that I didn’t even bother to find relevant research, as I doubt anyone would object.

The IT industry is dominated by men.

(I told you; it’s obvious.)

I speak at different events, and one question I frequently ask audiences is what kind of team they’d like to work with in terms of gender diversity, given all possible choices. The exact answers vary depending on the culture—responses would be different in Scandinavia from in Poland—but it always boils down to one pattern: We’d like to have more women on our teams than we have right now.

Things get interesting when I start asking why. Not that I question the idea; it’s pretty much the opposite. I just want to understand what drives us. A very common story is that when women join teams, things get better. But when I ask people why, they say, “Oh, it’s just going better.” What exactly is going better? “Um . . . It’s hard to say, but it just feels like it is.”

I sure have a theory about what is happening, but let me get back to that in a moment.

The interesting discussion is not really whether we should have more women on our teams, but rather why don’t we have more of them already. A common argument I hear is that there are not enough good female candidates, and thus we do our best, but at the end of the day it is what it is.

By the way, there’s an ongoing debate about how much men being considered stronger and more successful in hard sciences is genetically driven and how much it is our culture that sets specific roles for women and men and makes it much harder to go against the mainstream.

My take on that is aligned with kanban principles: Start with what you have. I’m an expert in neither psychology nor anthropology. I prefer to accept the cultural context the way it is and do my best within that context.

However, I don’t subscribe to the view that there aren’t enough great women in software industry. I live in Poland, which isn’t nearly as advanced in promoting diversity as Scandinavian countries or nearly as politically correct as the US. On many accounts it is a more challenging culture for women. Yet still I don’t think there’s a shortage of great female candidates.

Lunar Logic, the company I lead, is almost 40 percent women. This number doubled over the last few years. We are a business that is supposed to earn money. We don’t hire people to make the world better. We hire them because we believe they’re the best.

Whenever I share that, I hear that normally few women apply for jobs in the software industry. My experience is different. For each open hiring process we’ve had over the past couple of years, we consistently get anything between a third and half of the applications from women.

I don’t say that it happens without any effort. I just say that there’s no magic involved. We reach out to local communities that coach and train women. We support events like Rails Girls that help to train our future employees. It doesn’t take lots of money or effort. It doesn’t come for free, either, though.

Another argument about why hiring women is hard is the quality, not the quantity, of applications. In other words, one can get half of the applications from women, but they would be worse than those from men.

This is the point where I go ballistic.

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