Does Gender Equality Exist within Software Testing?

Lin and I are currently enjoying a great TV drama series on SBS called Borgen. It is based in Denmark and deals with the successful election of that country’s first female Prime Minister. It may not have escaped most of you (outside of Australia) that we have been living this reality in Australia for a couple of years now. However, I have seen no evidence that this reality has changed male attitudes towards recognising women and their achievements. In fact, the Prime Minister herself has (quite famously) referred to misogyny in our Parliament more than once in the past 12 months; however, there is still been no real public-driven groundswell to drive change in this area anytime soon.

So, does misogyny exist within the software testing profession in Australia – you bet it does!! Maybe not so much when it comes to pay scales, but certainly in terms of recognition of capability and leadership assessment. In the latest episode of Borgen, the Prime Minister promoted a Bill to legislate 45% of directors on the boards of medium and large sized companies should be female. This is a great example of what attitudes currently exist within western society. Even a forward thinking country like Denmark is tackling this – albeit only within the mainstream media!!

Ever since I arrived in Australia (in 1990) I have been aware of the Blokey psyche that prevails in the majority of circles I move in. This is a somewhat sad state of affairs, given that I’m pretty straight-laced and stricken with my British upbringing and therefore I’m mixing predominantly with the educated and enlightened! So, how bad is it in other areas of our society? Professionally, at least though, I’m not complaining, as I have benefitted enormously from others overlooking excellent female candidates.

In previous Blog posts I’ve mentioned how incredibly fussy I am in terms of recruitment. My approach has been well documented previously, but suffice to say that I hire based upon a Belief System. As a result of this approach, I have recruited far more women than men in my varying management roles, over the past 25 years. I have recruited the BEST people available on the market at any given time and paid them a fair and reasonable salary, for whatever role I am recruiting. I have NEVER over-paid someone or over-sold a job to the best of my knowledge. In terms of a percentage breakdown, I would estimate that I have hired 75% women and 25% men in this time. WHY? Because I hired the best available self-starting, intelligent and trustworthy people who were passionate and driven to succeed. I hired people who were under-utilised by other Managers. I hired people who were seen as high maintenance by other Managers. By the way, sometimes these people were male and sometimes they were female.

In my experience there are generally more female Test Analysts than males but, conversely, there are more male Test Managers than female. How does this happen? Easy – most women are seen to be too sensitive/emotional for senior roles and the ones who are selected are seen as hard-nosed or ballsy!! Why is it that women have to be more like men to get on? Why is it that the numbers don’t stack up?

When I go to Testing Conferences (in Australia) I meet far more men than women – it’s generally at least 3 to 1 in favour of the men. Is this because the women are back at the office working while the men get to enjoy the perks? Alright, so some of you guys will say that attending Conferences is still work – well, guess what, if that’s the case let more of the women do their work at Conferences while YOU stay back at the office.

Why am I writing this article and appearing to give the guys a hard time? Because I dislike inequality in all forms. Whether it be racial or ethnic. Whether it be class or caste. Whether it be religious or personal beliefs.

In the mid 90’s I was one of the first employees to join a very successful Project Management company called Planpower. One of the major reasons we were so successful was that we were all equals. From 1998 until I left (to go overseas in 2000) our CEO was Karen Hayes (she was in that role until 2006). At various times during my 5 year tenure our most senior Sales, Training, Finance and Change Managers were all female. My recollection is that around half our employees were female. Phil King, Robin Bailey, Chris Jones and Andy McCreedy (the directors of Planpower during it’s main growth phase) ensured that there was a culture that encouraged equal opportunities at all levels and across all aspects of our organisation. Planpower still stands out as the best company that I have ever worked for in Australia. Maybe, the fact that two of those Directors were English had something to do with this – maybe not!!

I truly believe that the majority of Australian male Project Managers and Software Testing Managers are blinkered in their approach to hiring and promoting people. I truly believe that my teams and I have benefited enormously from this appalling state of affairs. So, why am I giving away one of the secrets of my success? Because it’s the right thing to do.

We all need to see people and not see men or women. We all need to see people and not see hormones or emotions. We all need to see people and not see children at home or husbands demanding dinner on the table by 7pm. We all need to see smart, creative, dedicated people. We need to remove all gender bias from our work places. We need to embrace everyone, no matter what their gender, physical appearance or capability, race/class/creed/religion. We need to embrace equality for all. Only then will we begin to change preconceptions and bigoted beliefs.

Dateline: Melbourne – Friday, May 24, 2013

Postscript: Just in case any of you are interested, I don’t think our current (female) Prime Minister is the best person for the job, but that’s for another Blog….

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5 thoughts on “Does Gender Equality Exist within Software Testing?

  1. This article caught my attention as a woman in testing – especially the part where you say there are more female Test Analysts than male, but more male Test Managers than female. I do hope things will even out over the next few years.

    Also the part where you mention that women TMs can be viewed as hard-nosed and ballsy- have heard about that sentiment about women in leadership positions numerous times. Actually, watched a TED video by Sheryl Sandberg who said that a female’s friendliness is negatively correlated with respect towards her (when it comes to female leaders) – that saddens me. I hate to think that when I’m in a leadership position one day and am friendly towards others – that it people will respect me less for it.

  2. Very nice post. As a female in testing in the U.S. I’ve noticed stark differences in how I’m treated, and I’ve attached that treatment in my mind to the workplace itself. I’ve been better accepted by all in agile, faster-moving workplaces than I have been in bureaucratic places, where gender often trumps competence, and truly, competence is never even considered. It’s such a stark difference that I’ve selected to work only in the former at this point. The constant need to walk on eggshells around people in order to not be too “ballsy”, as you put it, makes me apoplectic. The inability to address incompetence without people taking offense because the messenger is a woman puts the brakes on forward movement. I have not yet experienced the misogynistic, over-inflated ego “syndrome” in an agile environment, and I am grateful for that. It’s nice to be treated as an equal, and I greatly respect the men and women I work with who do so. Being well-treated helped me understand that the problem is not with me, and I don’t need to apologize for being a competent, driven person. I just need to find like-minded people and stop banging my head against the wall trying to make the blind see.

    • Hi Bonnie,
      Thank you for your honest feedback. Your experience is not unusual, but it is sad. I will keep on writing about these types of issues until I see a turning of the tide. Peace.

  3. I’ve rarely worked with women in testing, yet the majority of my managers have been women – none of my managers have been testers!

    I’m about to start a new job as a QA Lead with a female QA Manager. So excited! 🙂

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