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In this podcast I give my reflections on attending my first Women in Agile Meetup – one of two men to attend. The podcast is divided into two broad categories:
– what I will call the human condition, and;
– gender differences
First off, it was a very valuable experience. The presentation was good and the experience, overall, was positive. I am glad I attended.
The presentation was on emotional intelligence and team safety which the speaker felt was not complete unless vulnerability was included. It got my attention because vulnerability is one of the number one topic that I have to address in change management.
In line with that, one of the elements that struck me was talking about Brene Brown and her work on shame. What was interesting about this was how the topic was treated as if it was relatively new in terms of developing an understanding of how shame influences our lives and creates problems as well as what we need to do in order to be healthier. The energy was definitely positive around this part of the presentation. I found this quite refreshing. For me, though, the concern that I have is that while people are willing to talk about vulnerability when it comes down to risking being in that state when at work and when doing Agility it can get challenging. Frankly, my experience is most people actually do not want to be vulnerable. Consequently, the leader has to risk being the first to display vulnerability in order to set an example to encourage others to do the same.
While being able to talk about vulnerability in public at work, in my experience, it’s so tempting to just want to hide and pretend everything is okay. The positive expressions when the speaker encouraged being frank about vulnerability and shared some of her own experiences led to an increase in the energy level in the room. What I thought when seeing this is that these women could put together a really good team!
So why is this so important? Agility is the child of chaos and complexity theory. In those situations rules have fallen apart and the only thing that allows for moving forward is the team making commitments, locking arms, and risking formulating the best way to move forward to solve the customers problems. Willingness to be vulnerable is that the core of success when it comes to agility. From my perspective, though, the Agile community is a bit naïve in terms of understanding the need to work with people in developing an understanding that working from a position of vulnerability does not mean weakness or submission. Rather, it simply means being fully available to work with your teammates. It takes time to shift the culture so the people feel safe being vulnerable.
I now want to move my attention to what I view as differences based on gender. Again, these are simply observations and are not meant to be judgmental of either males or females. The first thing that stood out was a difference between meetings where in terms of numbers males dominated versus this meeting were females dominated. I found I sat back and listened, which was appropriate for this being my first attendance at this meet up. However, there was something deeper which was simply being outnumbered in terms of gender. I found myself feeling comfortable being quiet and I reflected on it.
What I saw was simply being out numbered gender -wise created some discomfort and encourage me to just stay quiet. The thought that came to mind, then, was “Is this what women experience when in meetings where they are outnumbered by the number of men present?”
But then I had another thought with regards to why women would be quiet in male-dominated meetings – gender inequality. It is probably best represented by the fact that for every dollar a man makes a woman only makes $0.87. When that difference is viewed as normal from my perspective that’s when a prejudice sets in that intrinsically puts women down. For myself, if I were in that situation for a prolonged period of time I would be at risk for becoming reticent simply because my paycheck would say one hour of my work is not as valuable as one hour of someone else’s work. It also led me to think that I may hold back some in the workplace.
Some of the other behaviors I observed included more caution compared to a male-dominated meeting. A counterpoint to this was a level of excitement for some attendees in terms of being able to speak out in a place that was considered safe. Another behavior was inclusion. There was less a sense of competition and more of a sense of, “How can we capitalize on this as a group as well as individuals?” From my perspective this is powerful in terms of developing self-organizing teams that risk throwing themselves into solving the customer’s problem. This caused me to realize that there was a mythology present in the room, i.e., people coming together and sharing their individual experiences and looking for common threads that can be used to weave a team where the team members are trusting of each other.
Going back to what I would catalog under “human condition” is what I like to call, “Speaking from the Matrix.” Let me explain. People desire to be unique, be on a team, and work together constructively with their security on the team. Part of what I heard, though, was limitation set by working within the organization. This can at times be quite intimidating. The reason is organizations can have a persona just like an individual can have one. Now, within that persona can be some dysfunction which threatens individuals and essentially dampens the ability to practice emotional intelligence based on being vulnerable. What would be better is for self-organizing teams to have the goal of participate based on one’s diversity rather than conformity.
So, as said before, overall it was a positive experience and I’m looking forward to going to future meetings where I can learn more both about myself and Women in Agile.
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