Culture Growth

Gender Bias in Tech – Epiphany Moment

When I submitted my talk on gender biases for consideration for the Women in Agile Workshop at Agile2017, I had a lot of fear that the topic would be dismissed as not relevant, not helpful, trite or just boring.

I was shocked when it was accepted, and then I thought, “well, of course, the topic was relevant, this is the Women in Agile workshop…” Dismissing my contribution (a habit I have).

The experience was fantastic, the crowd supportive, and I gush all about it in this blog post. Then my critical mind decided, the topic would never (yes, never) be something that would be of interest to the broader agile community.

Boy (pun intended?), was I wrong.

In David Marquet’s keynote, he spoke about the benefits of a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset, Billie Schuttpelz held a two part Audacious Salon Workshop on Imposter Syndrome, which has been shown to be prevalent in women, and then the pièce de résistance –

Jez Humble’s keynote on Wednesday morning. He wrapped up his talk on Continous Delivery in Agile, and then he went off-script for the last 15 minutes.

With the recent turmoil at Google with Damore’s Manifesto, Jez attacked it head on. Below is the key claim to Damore’s argument:

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 12.46.55 PM.png

I’ll save my anger at the overt discrimination for another post, and I’ll focus on the below takeaways from this part of Jez’s keynote, which can be found here:

  • The key claim in Damore’s Manifesto is statistically proven wrong.
  • The female personality traits that Damore highlights are a good thing. Empathy on teams is a great idea, aka – people over processes.
  • Epiphany moment: the research point that bias is increased based “on the extent to which practitioners believe that raw, innate talent is the main requirement for success” (cue light bulb above head!)
  • He provides stats on how the unconscious bias can impact competence, hireability, and mentoring. Also, the significant salary gaps – did you know that when women enter a profession, the mean salary for that profession goes down?
  • He then showcased that in the early days of computers, there were a number of women who had ground-breaking achievements and success.
  • So what happened? Why did the percentage of women in Computer Science jobs decrease in the mid-80s? He gives a few reasons – it was considered “clerical work, and low paying,” perceived to be “hard” and became a male-stereotyped activity and marketing computers was directed to young boys. Also, the pervasive belief that innate ability or brilliance is required to succeed.

These topics are important, not just for women, but for the importance of diversity in tech.

Then the epiphany hit me.

In my research for my talk, I encountered data that showed that women are more likely to have a proving mindset, which caused defensive reactions, and a fixed mindset – the belief that our skills and ability are inborn and inherited. There is no growth mindset.

The research theorizes that this is because women are socialized to be less confident than men, and level of self-confidence has a huge part in one having a growth vs. fixed mindset.


What if it’s been the biases that have been causing us to react to everything to prove that we are good enough, that we are equal, and we have to try twice as hard to prove that we’re as competent? No wonder we have a proving mindset and a generalization that we’re defensive as a gender.

What if we’re constantly fighting the bias that success is based on inborn talents and innate abilities?

We also know that the other person has been subconsciously exposed to these biases, and likely (unknowingly) has them themselves, our protective instinct is to counter that and fight to show our worth and provide “extra” to over compensate. Those biases lead them to see the interaction as “this person is constrained by their innate abilities,” not “this person has the capacity to learn and grow.”

We have to prove our competence again and again because it’s “fixed,” and “who we are”…

These are not just biases that men have towards women, women also have them towards women.

If a woman’s skills are assumed to be “fixed,” then, of course, we’re going to be conditioned to prove that we meet the expectations – it basically locks us into a proving/fixed mindset.

The working assumption is that a woman’s skills can’t grow.

What if there was a change and the assumption was that we came from a place of equality and shared understanding? Would we feel as though we had to prove ourselves? Be defensive of ourselves?

Would we stop feeling like an imposter (and not qualified) because we stop assuming that our skills are fixed? Would we feel more comfortable with a common understanding that we’re all growing and learning? That our skills can be developed and learned just as easily as a man’s?

How much more could we accomplish? How creative and innovative could we be if we didn’t need to burn the energy constantly proving and defending ourselves to counteract the bias?

1 comment on “Gender Bias in Tech – Epiphany Moment

  1. Pingback: Agile2017 Recap – Day 4 – Joanna Vahlsing, PMP

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