Category Archives: Diverse speakers

LS In Conf’rence Land

Greetings to the reader or Lectori Salutem.

Texting and talking about diversity

This spring I was invited to speak at a known Dutch test conference. I had a good proposal, so I only had to say: “Yes”. But I had to ponder this carefully. I had a public promise not to speak at a conference with an all male line up.

I also had obliged myself to say: “No”, if there were too few female speakers. Women look different at tech and they need female role models.

This year several male speakers declined to speak at a conference with an all male line up..

There was only one way to find out. Just ask the program committee. I texted my dilemma and asked for the number of female speakers. There were only 2 female speakers selected out of 3. Selection took place on quality of the presentations, theme, and target audience.

I got my dilemma back. Is 2 enough? Looking at the last conference it was an increase of 100% in the number of female speakers. But still it bugged me.

The only way for me to improve the diversity was to make suggestions for the keynote speakers. I texted 3 names of female speakers and subjects fitting to the theme. At the end of the same text message I also agreed to give a workshop.

When I saw the final version of the schedule, I could not suppress a smile on my face: one of my proposed keynote speaker candidates was a speaker with my suggested subject. Yes, mind reading is cool. And there was a female co keynote speaker.

During the conference I saw a tweet about testing of blockchain. There were two speakers and the female one could really explain it. That’s why diversity is so important. Just for the record the tweet was sent by an experienced male tester. And it was not me.

Continuing talking about diversity

Same test conference. There was a representative of a European test conference. One thing about the conf this size fits only 1. And I could not resist the urge to talk about diversity. The answer was of course quality. And the programme committee decided about the talks. Also the names of the submitters were not shown to the reviewers of the proposals.

I was not quite convincing. So the woman offered me her email address to send more information. So I sent information about Karoline Sczcur and a link to  A Balanced Conference Card. I received a polite Thank you.

So what went wrong?
Time for a retrospective. Yes it is an agile thing to do.

I had not prepared some talk. So here is the rebound.
As an organiser you can give guidelines to the programme committee. And you can reach out to female speakers in a positive way. Yes it takes time.

More important is to realise what is diversity about. People who think alike come with solutions alike. This means that these people will fall in the same pitfall.

Back to the conference. If there are a lot of white male speakers, then afterwards the attendees will make similar white male speaker errors. A female perspective can add a different and effective approach.

Also. What works for a white male engineer, might not work for a female engineer. A suggestion from her can easily be ignored or stolen. This can be avoided by using number 10 of survival tips for women in tech from Patricia Aas.

What really baffled me, was that lot of these tips also can be used by people of colour. As a man of colour I have to invest a considerable amount of time in finding and talking with allies. To get things tested.

In the Netherlands the campaign #NietGenoeg was started to get more women in tech.

Jez Humble tweeted about diversity in a refreshing way. You can only make good programs with empathy at the core.
“Empathy is _hard_. It means listening openly and deeply to people with very different perspectives, accepting the truth of those perspectives, questioning and changing your deepest assumptions about the world, and changing your behavior.”

Skin in the game of diversity

So I had my own piece of constructive feedback for tech conferences a few weeks ago.
Okay you may call it a rant. It was close.
Actually it was. For a good cause. Diversity.

As a blogger I could just lean back.
Now it was time for my action. Skin in the game.

Target One

This year I was on a test conference. The number of female speakers was low. Some male speakers might say:
“Let’s double the number of female speakers. Fine with us.”
“Thanks guys.”

There was one female co speaker. That makes two female co speakers.
Wait. Now let’s look at the incredible number of female keynote speakers of 0.
2 times 0 makes 0. If this would be quadrupled or octodupled, it would remain a disappointing 0.

In my experience there are more great female testers than 2 in the Netherlands. Let’s give them a place on stage. Main stage please. Thanks in advance.

In the past no correspondence was possible about the proposal selection process of this conference. Discussion takes time especially with Dutchmen. So a bit of transparency might help.

“You’ve got a question. What is your question?”
“I think that there are great stories of women out there. We don’t have the time to coach them.”
“Just go to speaking-easy.com.”

“But this is a Dutch conference.”
“Indeed. But English is no problem for the attendees.”
“There are no Dutch coaches.”
“That also worries me a lot. A testing country without Dutch speaking coaches is strange.”

My first tweet to the conference was a wish for 2018: more female speakers than in 2017. No reaction at all. That was my target practicing. Next.

The next tweet was aimed to the chairman. I remembered two announcements of keynote speakers:

  • “When I was in London for BCS, I met [white male speaker]. I was quite impressed with his talk, so [ ….]”
  • “The other keynote speaker is [white male speaker] . I met him at TestBash Netherlands. “

Now let me stress that I am impressed with the test experience and knowledge of these keynote speakers. Now imagine two female keynote speakers and my reaction would be double wow.

Ready, aim, tweet.
My friendly request to the chairman was to have a look at a list of female testers in case of keynotes.
The answer was considerate: some of the ladies had already spoken as keynote speakers, but he would try to get other ladies on stage.

My tweet had an unexpected side effect, which I had not anticipated. A case of collateral praise. One female speaker reacted with “cool and Very proud” to be on this list.

Target zero
A few weeks ago Rosie Sherry pointed to a whole discussion about #PayToSpeak. As a speaker it is the norm to pay your travelling and accommodation costs. Both Rosie and I don’t like this.

I reacted with a Balanced Conference Card.
Just answer enough questions with Yes and you have a balanced conference.

“Why was TestBash target 0?”
“It was not. TestBash is one of the conferences focused on balance.”
“Why did you call this paragraph ‘Target 0’?”
“It is an inside joke.
Programmers always count from 0.”

Anyways my blog post ended up in the newsletter of Ministry of Testing. Thanks.

A week ago there was another discussion about female speakers. I pointed to my blog post. Somehow I ended up as an ally.

Target Two Too
Next tweet target was a huge European test conference.
You know: this size fits only one in Europe.
I actually was hesitant to send a tweet, but a disappointed tweet of a famous tester about another male lineup at a conf pushed me out of my comfort zone into my action zone.

Now comes the scary part.
The program chair had no Twitter account. A few years ago this was already mentionable according to his track chair. So I picked the conf itself.

I thought it was good to praise the conference organisers for actions taken for a diverse lineup this year. The aforementioned famous tester was also pleased with the steps taken in the past. So I retweeted her reaction with the request to keep up the good work.

This left an unaddressed program committee.
I tweeted a female member of the program committee to repeat the success of diverse lineup of this year. She did not react.

The conf did. Gender bias was taken care of by making the proposals anonymous. Reads good to me.

Target Two Too
By now you know the drill:

So if you want to have more diversity, you have my permission to use these actions.
Excuse me for scaring you.

Some tech confs have questions about diversity.  I respect their point of view. I heard really good stories about first time speakers supported by Speak easy
Oops let me add this to the list above.[v]

Conferences want praise from their attendees. So give New Voices a stage like Agile Testing Days. You know what: those first time speakers have a lot of keynote potential in themselves.

Little thought experiment
Bio 1: I am a white male speaker. My dad sent me to the best schools and universities, because he could afford it. I now work at a Fortune 500 company.

Bio 2: I am an African American woman. I grew up in the Bronx. We were really poor. The only times we saw a computer it was on the television.

One day I was invited by Per Scholas. They thought I was bright. I laughed. They suggested something with computers. Me and computers, I could not stop laughing for 1 minute.

Anyway I got some really good teachers. And I could touch a computer without some comment like:
“Hey, what you’re doing?”
It was not that difficult to pick up things. It was logical.

For me the time with Per Scholas was like a Christmas story. After school it would be back in the shop selling veggies. You know what. I got a good job offer. Ain’t that great?

“Wait you are writing everything down.”
“Sure.”
“But that is not a good bio.”
“I assure it adds so much flavour.”

Of course I am biased, if I see those bios.

  • A very influential tester once told me, he would like to follow the Per Scholas course. And he is already good.
  • These days I have to learn a lot just to keep up. What could this woman teach me about struggling and keeping faith?
  • I want to see the underdog.

Okay recruiters, don’t send me mails now.
I have a disappointing message for you. Both bios are fake.
Because this is a thought experience: you know like imaginary or hypothetical or dreamed up.

Target Me
Now what is all that stuff about skin in the game?
Good question. Which needs a good answer.

If I get accepted by a tech conf and there is big unbalance, then I will bail out.
I won’t speak.
This talk will be dearly missed on my CV and my Conference Speaker Bingo Card,  but that is my skin in the game.

Side notes

  • I am going to submit to 2 #PayToSpeak confs in the next few weeks. Although I don’t like this.
  • One conference is part of yearly package deal membership under 100 Euro. This club offers a lot to the testing community. So I give something back.
  • One conference is so nearby I lose a small amount of money for travelling. I can sleep at home.
  • And I want break my streak of speaking every other year. In the meantime I have this, a blog to practice my speaking skills.