The fourth annual Women in Agile (WIA) event at Agile2019 in Washington, D.C., continued to demonstrate the meteoric rise of the WIA movement. Sold out at 300 attendees, the room was bursting at the seams with an enthusiastic crowd ready to learn from each other and to “activate” the mission to empower the Agile community with more, diverse ideas.
Fashion’s Faux Pas
This year’s keynote was Stephanie Thomas, a disability fashion stylist and founder of Cur8able who has dedicated her life to bringing accessible, medically safe and fashionable clothing to the disabled. Thomas shared that her journey started with one small button. Someone asked her, many years ago, she always forgot to button one of her sleeves and not the other. For Thomas it was simple: as a congenital amputee, it was difficult for her to button the opposite sleeve – and this small and subtle interaction eventually inspired her work with people that the fashion world overlooks: people with disabilities.
Over the course of her career, Thomas saw people with disabilities being left out of consideration when it comes to fashion and clothing. Regular fashion isn’t made for people who sit in a wheelchair, or for adults who have to shop in children’s sizes, or for those who suffer from debilitating pain that makes the simple act of getting dressed a three-hour ordeal. We learned that the market provides more fashionable clothing for our dogs than people with disabilities! Part of what was missing in the fashion world was the valuable and unique perspective of a person living with a disability. It needed her perspective – and that’s the point Thomas drove home for us: You need diverse perspectives for new ideas and innovation to happen.
Although The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on disability, the one thing you can’t legislate are attitudinal differences. Thomas asked: “Why do we tell kids ‘don’t stare’? Why don’t we look at disability?” How to interact with the disabled isn’t taught anywhere, which is why she encouraged everyone to form individual relationships and learn how they prefer to be referred to as. “Listen to the end user. Be discerning about advice.”
You can hear Thomas’ story on our brand new Women in Agile podcast!
Launching New Voices
One of the Women in Agile organization’s key initiatives is Launching New Voices, a program which seeks to create opportunities to help new speakers and writers get noticed. In preparation for the Agile2019 session, three protégés were chosen a couple months ago, and each was assigned a mentor who helped them prepare a speaking session for the event.
First up was Leah Burman, mentored by Lyssa Adkins, who delivered an inspiring talk called Giant Leaps – An Agile Generation’s Moonshot. Burman took the audience back to the Apollo 11 mission and the collaboration and iterations it took to accomplish the moon landing. She spoke of America’s commitment to Kennedy’s vision. But she also reminded us that not everyone was recognized for their accomplishments. Specifically, women and African Americans were virtually erased from the story. Today, we as a collective have the power of Agile to accomplish something new, to take our own giant leap.
Next, Najee Hajebi presented Nevertheless, She Finally Thinks She Persisted, mentored by Faye Thompson. Hajebi spoke about her personal experience with recovering from an injury and the lessons she took away to better help her clients. She advised creating a safe environment, because if we are frustrated, overworked or anxious, we cannot function effectively.
Last but not least, Arundhati Dutta spoke about Enriching Agile Coaching by Drawing from Psychotherapy, following a raving introduction from her mentor, Mike Lowery. Dutta emphasized the need for skills such as empathy, active listening and rapport for working effectively within an Agile team. She further educated us on what empathy really looks like. She says it’s not about fixing the issue; it’s acknowledging the other person and the discomfort of their situation. Ultimately, when you’re empathetic toward someone, your body releases oxytocin which helps you feel calm and reduces stress.
Connecting Ideas and People
The event also included World Café where we had the opportunity to share our thoughts and ideas with each other, find commonalities between groups of people, and get to know each other. We walked away that afternoon with heartfelt inspiration to encourage diversity in our own communities and with many more new connections to network with.