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Are women more agile?

Posted by Agile, IT Leave a comment

This question may sound controversial and even aggressive coming from the female agilist that I am. However, it only reflects two trends that I witnessed in the recent years:

  1. The rise of agility in the workplace
  2. The rise of women in the workforce

I first touched on the topic of women and agility at the first edition of Girl Geek Dinner in Vietnam. Initially intended as an introduction to agile software development for this very new group, my presentation ended with the following message: agility was actually a great attractor and motivator for female students to take on an IT job, and for women working in IT to persevere in their career.

As much as this seemed obvious to me through my own professional experience, I couldn’t work out then whether there was any good justification to it.

Open session at the Agile Tour

At the Agile Tour HCMC 2012, I had the opportunity to raise this topic again in an open session: “Are women more agile?”. With the help from Joe Justice we adopted the following approach:

  • Step 1. Define what are the characteristics of Agility?
  • Step 2. How do women vs. men rank against each of these characteristics?

This approach would not provide any scientific proof or justification. The answers may be subjective and may vary depending on cultural factors, especially what is perceived as being masculine or feminine. But the perception is a good indicator of behaviour and how they affect the workplace and career choices. It was a pity that on the day, there were not enough participants to collect data, so I put an equivalent survey online (*) to continue my investigations.

The open session at the Agile Tour ended with a 2 minutes presentation that was recorded in this short video.

The bottom line was: the point is not so much whether women are more agile or less, but that they do bring agility to a team, they contribute to collective intelligence (as shown in this very nice infographic from Women who tech). Furthermore, because the criteria to succeed in IT have shifted in the past decade to agile criteria, women are more likely to be successful, and be attracted to embrace such careers.

(*) Please do submit your answers and forward the survey to your colleagues to help me gather enough significant data! I will post a follow-up with the results.

The rise of women

Encouraging more women in technology is not only a matter of gender equality. Only with the female workforce will there be have enough skilled people.

As Hanna Rosin explains in her TED talk on The rise of women, the workforce balance is shifting.

“For every two men who get a college degree, three women will do the same […] 50 percent of managers are women these days,  and in the 15 professions projected to grow  the most in the next decade, all but two of them are dominated by women”

I suspect that the 2 professions that are expected to grow and that will not be dominated by women are IT related…

“What the economy requires now is a whole different set of skills. Intelligence, ability to sit still and focus, to communicate openly, to be able to listen to people and to operate in the workplace that is much more fluid than  it used to be, those are things that women do extremely well.”

In software development, the profession has gone from “nerd developers” who can barely express any emotions to developers who can pair-program, communicate, understand the “business value” and put themselves in user’s shoes. These are things women do extremely well.

Vietnamese women

I believe that the fact that women may possess better skills for the current society is even more true in Vietnam where jobs are in garment or electronic manufacturing or in the service industry, including outsourcing services like Officience.

Vietnamese women are often praised because they are “nhanh nhen” (quick and fast): they know how to make themselves useful in any situations in a very discreet way. At home, with a bit of washing up here, helping for the cooking there, washing a few vegetables here, playing with the kids there, serving food to the elders here, taking part in a conversation there. All that without anyone having to ask them to do so.

In a development team, they are just the same, with a bit of coding here, writing some missing documentation there, organizing a team event here, asking for conversational news there, all this without anyone ever telling. Don’t think that they are anything near being office moms. On the contrary, they naturally understand the concept of servant leadership, which relates closely to agile leadership.

Vietnamese families prefer first-born girls for these reasons. Companies would be crazy not to seek to have women in their team, and even their leadership team, for the same reasons.

International women’s day

On this international women’s day, I would like to celebrate in particular all the chi em (sisters) working in IT in Vietnam. May they find an agile environment that will make the most of their abilities and allow them to thrive!

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