Women in Agile and Tech: Building a Network of Support, Learning, and Growth

by Deepti Jain

This story originates sometime back in 2013–2014 when I started my journey to become an Agile Enabler in India.

When I began, I did not find a single woman to guide me or coach me. Not blaming women for not coming forward. It was maybe because I was a novice and unaware of people who are in this industry. I started by randomly contacting any person who was doing something in public in the Agile world. Some responded and some did not. Every time I felt that there should be a group of mentors who are willing to guide you, coach you. I started learning by:

  1. Meetups: Meetups are good places to go for learning what’s new, what’s happening, and learning from peers in the region, but after a certain point it’s all same set of conversations and challenges with no answers to them. This made me realize that every region has its limitations.
  2. Conferences: From meetups, I got to know about conferences, and definitely going to conferences (mostly of 2 days) gave a lot of information about what’s happening and what knowledge gap we have. But then again after a few conferences, I found out that learning was not great, maybe a limitation of my region.

The Program & Execution

The program and its execution are very simple. We call out for Mentees and Mentors via our website and through social media to seek and offer free mentorship on various topics. We review all applications and ensure that Mentors have good knowledge and some experience in mentorship, thought it’s not a must (there is always a first time). Based on the Mentor’s offering and the Mentee’s asks, we create pairs and connect them via mail. Mentorship runs for 6 week. At the start each pair has to share their plan — what they intend to achieve and how — and after 6 weeks of mentorship they have to share what they achieved.

Our Challenges

  1. After applying, not all Mentees and Mentors joined program. Some did not even bother to reply to our mails. (Not very motivating).
  2. After accepting mentorship and pairing up, not many Mentees or Mentors stayed committed to mentorship or prepared and shared a plan.
  3. A lot of follow-up and constant motivation of pairs was needed.
  4. There we a total of 32 Mentors applications and 54 Mentees application, but only 28 successful pairs were established as many Mentees/Mentors backed out. These 28 pairs had 20 Mentors. Some Mentors offering mentorship to more than one Mentee.
  5. After completion of 6 weeks, we found out for various reasons there was further drop in the commitment of pairs. Some reasons were lack of time and some were real personal challenges like loss of a family member of severe health issues.

Outcome: Achievement, Discoveries, and Future-of-work

The pairs connected with one end goal in mind — learning the common topic they were aligned to — but over 6 weeks they got much more. And we also learnt more about how women think as professionals, their challenges and limiting thought, which further gave us direction to future of our work at Women in Agile and Tech. Here is summary:

Achievements:

  1. With this program, in two years we were able to help women gain expertise on subjects/topics they wanted to learn and excel at.
  2. Women connected to learn a particular topic/subject but bonded over calls and developed a nurturing relationship. This was not part of plan but such a lovely outcome of this program.
  3. They started sharing their journeys and hence started helping each other with other challenges on the personal and professional front.
  4. Women were able to help other women with opportunities (consulting assignment, speaking opportunity in a Meetup/conference, job referral…).
  5. Women were able to INSPIRE other women, help them get out of their comfort zone and be able to reach to their higher self.

Discoveries (there are so many more that we are working to explore):

  1. Men tend to be promoted for potential, whereas women for performance. Further, women are too tough on themselves, they themselves don’t feel very deserving until they have proved their potential via their performance, and after that they feel confident about asking for promotion.
  2. Women (this data is coming from India) do not have the mindset that they stand equal chances, as they themselves feel more responsible for care giving. There is no real difference between issues faced by women in India vs. other places. It is all about the culture that needs to be addressed. In India the culture of equality is missing. A working woman is expected to take care of everything on the home front as well. Career mostly come as a second priority. Professional aspiration is many a times looked upon as a very selfish act.
  3. Workplaces have men in the majority and so having a single woman team member might not bring out the desired benefits of diversity and inclusion. Better to have a group of women in a few teams rather than having one woman on each team. The whole idea of traditional aggressive leadership gets reinforced when there are less women.
  4. Women (particularly in India) face challenge from family and partners — where they are expected to limit their ambitions and aspirations only to the extent where acceptable to their partners and families. They are seen in negative light if they aspire beyond that.
  5. When men speaking up on behalf of women it elevates the status of everyone in the team.
  6. Mentorship and sponsorship is extremely important.

Future-of-Work:

We are working on a report where we are trying to understand cultural and workplace challenges of women. We are taking input from women here as well as outside. This will help us understand how things are here vs outside India. And it will also give many insights on how these challenges can be worked upon. If you want to help us please fill this survey.

Agile Alliance is a nonprofit global member organization, supporting and serving the Agile community since 2001. AgileAlliance.org