Women in Tech, Diversity and Inclusion (UKSTAR Huddle area discussion)

In this post, I will be continuing to share my experiences at the UKSTAR software testing conference. Previously I wrote about the lean coffee event that took place at the UKSTAR huddle area. This was an area designated for chilling out, playing games, meeting new people and discussing various test related topics.

Another discussion event on diversity and inclusion, mainly focused on international women’s day, was organised to take place in the huddle area. It was a popular event, the number of attendees was so high we had to move to one of the other rooms where it was quieter.

The session took a similar format to the lean coffee session. We were given post-it notes and told to write down a few topics and stick them on the white board. We then voted on the topics we wanted to discuss. There were so many people involved that we spent more time on each topic. Normally lean coffee has about 5 minutes per topic, we spent 15 minutes per topic during the 30 minute session.

Similar to my lean coffee blog post, in this post I am attempting to give a summary of the discussion that took place rather than just presenting my own opinions.

Why do our peers not think diversity is important?

The person who suggested this topic started out by stating why diversity is important. It has been suggested that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams. She also talked about some unfortunate experiences. For example, she once told some male colleagues about a ‘Women Who Code’ event. The response was “You mean women who can’t code?”. While it was clearly meant as a joke, it was something that has stuck with her.

In my experience, I feel that I am well respected by my male colleagues. Despite this, I do often feel that the issue is not taken seriously. Sometimes it is even joked about, although I’ve never heard any jokes as unfortunate as the one described previously.

I think that the reason that some may not see this as an issue is because it doesn’t affect them as much. They don’t know what its like to be a woman in a team dominated by men. If someone has never experienced a situation where they are not in a privileged group, how can they understand the situation and its issues.

It can be really scary for a women starting work in a new team, especially if it is a male dominated team. However, someone also pointed out that this situation can be just as scary for men. There can be this fear of saying the wrong thing, not knowing what to talk about, or not knowing how to treat women. While some may not understand the importance of diversity, most men don’t want to be seen as ‘macho’ or deliberately exclude women.

The discussion ended with the question “Why do we have to win the respect of men?”, the response was another question: “What is the alternative?”.

I don’t want to be seem as being here because of a quota

This topic was kicked off with the question, “How would you feel if you found out you only got a job because of a quota?” The answer given was ‘insulted’, a sentiment shared by most people present. This is unsurprising as I believe most would prefer to get a job on their own merit.

If I ever found myself in this position, I would strive to prove myself and earn the respect of my peers. I would show that my skills and experience alone show that I was worth hiring.

I then asked the question “Would you turn down a job if you found out you were offered it because of a quota?” I stated that, while I would be offended, it would depend entirely on how desperate I was for that job. Several people in the room agreed that they would be unlikely to turn down an opportunity if they were offered it to meet a quota.

Someone then pointed out that men have advantages that women don’t have. It is often easier for men to progress in certain areas. It is not a level playing field. If there is just one thing that gives women an advantage, why should we not use it?

The discussion then moved on to why there might need to be a quota in certain cases. Sometimes, excuses are made like “No one else applied” or “Don’t know any!”. This is probably where the problem lies. Why are women not applying for these roles? Could there be someone putting them off? No one likes quotas, however sometimes they can encourage employers to actually seek out specific candidates who meet a certain criteria and have the skills required for the role.

Someone suggested the possibility that recruiters may be biased when pre-screening CVs. We are all aware of the infamous AI recruiting tool used by Amazon to screen applicants that was biased against women. It is now becoming more and more common for CVs to have certain personal details that could reveal a persons name, gender and race before passing them on to employers.

Summary

It was great to attend such a lively discussion on gender diversity in certain industries. It was encouraging to have men and women among those who attended. I remember talking to someone afterwards who said that debates like this can go on forever.This is definitely true as both of these topics could have easily gone on for several hours. We could have continued the discussions all afternoon if the room wasn’t required for another talk. Just the 15 minutes of discussion for each topic was enough to give me a lot to think about.

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