Empowering the Changing Face of Agile

From left: Jenny Tarwater, Lisa Crispen, Natalie Warnert and Billie Schuttpelz 

I’ve had people ask: “Why do we need an event that puts a spotlight on women specifically?” I try to explain to them what it’s like as a female Agile consultant to live most of every day in rooms full of men. To realize that, besides the occasional female executive at the conference table, you’re usually the only woman present. That at consultant gatherings the men will direct me over to the “wives” circle to mingle because they assume I am at the event because I am a consultant’s wife. They don’t even ask if I am their peer. And while I’ve learned to operate within this environment, I was excited for an opportunity to help bring our community of women Agilists together at Agile2017 this year — to show ourselves and others our strength in numbers and diversity.


Women in Agile2017

When you think of how the business world, including the Agile industry, is dominated by mostly men,  you start to understand “why” women might enjoy three hours together on a Sunday before a national conference with 2200 people.  Before we got lost in the crowds in Orlando, we wanted to get together and meet each other so we would feel great about connecting in the hallways. This year, more than before, we were joined by men who support women in Agile. Throughout my career I have been surrounded by amazing men and I offer grateful thanks for all of the men that support, promote and lift up talented women.

For these reasons and more,  I was excited to be part of the organizing committee for the Women in Agile event at Agile2017 with Natalie Warnert, Linda Cook, Eric Willeke, Pradeepa Narayanaswamy, Jenny Tarwater, Lisa Crispin, and Sara McClintock. The workshop allowed us to use the knowledge and skills we’ve gained to help others get ahead in life whom might not normally have had that opportunity.


Finding My Voice

My own career has been influenced by both amazing men and women.  Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working for two different, strong, bold entrepreneurial women who started consulting businesses. Looking back, I can see the opportunities they opened up for me by celebrating my unique strengths.  Now I want to pass that on to other women that I know who are on their own journey.

Between automotive engineering, IT and consulting, most of my career has been in male-dominated industries.  One experience was especially impactful in my early career. I remember fifteen years ago when, as a young consultant, I was sitting in a conference room in South Africa with a group of men who were 25-30 years older than me. They were asking me (me!) how to redesign their engineering process flow to eliminate waste and implement global standards.  So of course I approached that engagement with my usual zeal and dove right in.

That engagement sticks in my mind all these years later because it was the first time I realized that I could have an influence because of my unique perspective as a woman in a corporate setting. The women of South Africa would not, at that point in time, have been given that seat at the conference table. But I was able to skirt around their historical and cultural norms because I was a “Western woman” and also the representative of the company that had sent me. I set a goal to use that open door to influence the immediate cultural norms around me and encourage  some people — both men and women — to follow alongside me and hopefully offer greater visibility of their skills and talents in that company.  Over the years, I’ve experienced many such moments in my work overseas.


Empowering Others

The event theme this year was “Empowering the Changing Face of Agile: Women in Agile”. We began by talking about the Code of Conduct for the week-long conference coming up, which was summarized masterfully and shared by Linda Cook and Paul Hammond in two short sentences:

  1. Be kind to others.
  2. Behave professionally.

The opening keynote was by Astronaut Abigail “Abby” Harrison who founded a non-profit called The Mars Generation. Her organization’s motto is “Dream Big, Act Big, Inspire Others”.

Her passion for her continued pursuit for being the first astronaut on Mars was contagious. She inspired all of us to think outside the box and go for it.   

After the keynote we moved into an Open Space focusing on three topics:

  1. Find Your Voice
  2. Build Local Community
  3. Establish Your Presence

It was beautiful and exciting to see the long line of women who had never held an Open Space session before stand up to propose a session.  I heard a lot of people being empowered to do things in their local community with tips and shared knowledge from others in the room who had already walked those paths.  Some attendees talked about how to start a blog, while others spoke on how to write an abstract to submit to speak at  conferences, as well as body language and how to have a more powerful presence in speaking and in life.  We had a dynamic, energetic dialogue around how men can better support the women in the Agile community.  I appreciated the way some women felt heard right there, right then, and people changed their dialogue while in the open space session. I congratulate everyone who hosted a session.  If you’ve never hosted a session, then it’s hard to describe the level of excitement and fear at the same time as you put your topic out there.  Will anyone come?  Is this a stupid topic?  It takes bravery to put yourself out there, which is why I say: Congratulations.  It turned out far beyond our expectations and it proved to me that women and men together have so much to offer each other in terms of support and inspiration.


Launching New Voices

What inspired me the most of this workshop was the new program that I helped organize to put a spotlight on fresh perspectives from women in our Agile community. We called the program Launching New Voices.  The premise is simple: give three women, who had never been paid to be a speaker at a conference, a 7-minute slot for a lightning  talk.  The immediate value we could provide was to launch some new speakers on that day — women who had never been reimbursed to speak at a conference.  Women who had always wanted to speak but had not yet broken through that seemingly elusive veil.  The response was amazing as usual from our community, proving we have so many talented people.

Once the three lightning talk speakers were chosen , we paired them up with a mentor (see below). Here the speakers, their topics and their mentors:

  1. Joanna Vahlsing (mentor Laura Powers):
  • Gender’s Impact on the Ability for Agile Teams to have Meaningful Feedback Loops
  1. Linda Podder (mentor Lynn Winterboer):
  • Innovation Isn’t Just for the Dev Team – It’s for Scrum Masters Too!
  1. Susan Marricone (mentor Ryan Ripley):
  • Empowering Women through Agile Outside IT

The overwhelmingly positive feedback on this section of the program was a huge success, even though I know it took about four weeks of calls with a mentor for our “new voices” to find themselves and their confidence in public speaking. Due to the success of this program, we hope to repeat and iterate on it.

In fact, the entire event was an overwhelming success.  The event continuously improved for the better from last year to this year.  We are still looking for more ways to grow and improve so share any ideas or feedback you have with us!

Ways to get in contact:

Slack Channel: www.womeninagile.slack.com

Website: www.womeninagile.com

Twitter Hashtag: #WomenInAgile

LinkedIn Group: Search “women in agile”