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InfoQ Homepage News Creating Tight Cohesive Tech Teams for Women to Thrive

Creating Tight Cohesive Tech Teams for Women to Thrive

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Women in tech need a dynamic, valuing team, stimulating work, push and support, local role models, nonjudgmental flexibility, and personal power. Tight cohesive teams can provide high-quality interactions, making people feel valued.

Nicola Marsden spoke about tech workplaces where women thrive at OOP 2022.

Women leave tech jobs at a much higher rate than men, Marsden explained:

Research from the EU shows that by the time women reach age 45, more than 90% of the women who graduated with a degree in ICT left the field.

Marsden mentioned that the problem is inside the work: women in tech are constantly confronted with stereotypes that question their competence and tell them that they do not belong there. Men do not have that experience, so the situation is totally different for men than for women, she said.

One approach to retain women is to create tight cohesive teams, Marsden said. The quality of our interactions with co-workers makes or breaks our experience at work. If each person feels valued and embraced, they thrive and the team performs.

Marsden mentioned that we all carry around implicit bias about gender. She argued that we need a new approach: install processes and practices to automatically ensure fairness. For example, rules of engagement in meetings to ensure everyone has spoken before a person speaks again.

Bias is hard to eliminate, but it is not hard to interrupt, Marsden explained:

At the core of all of our recommendations is our central principle of redesign. Make what is implicit, explicit; what is unarticulated, articulated; what is driven by bias, open to examination.

InfoQ interviewed Nicola Marsden about redesigning tech workplaces.

InfoQ: What is the @Work Experience Framework?

Nicola Marsden: The @Work Experience Framework describes key factors essential for women to thrive in tech jobs:

  • Dynamic, Valuing Team: women thrive in a dynamic, work-focused team and/or partnership where they can lead, follow, feel valued, and talk about life outside of work within their team.
  • Stimulating Work: women love working on challenging technical problems, products, or research questions important to the company, the industry, or the world.
  • Push & Support: women may not feel qualified for the next challenge. But when pushed by trusted managers, colleagues, or family, they take it on and succeed.
  • Local Role Models: women need coaching relationships in their company to help them succeed.
  • Nonjudgmental Flexibility: women with children thrive if the team and managers flex to everyone’s life commitments.
  • Personal Power: women can have self-doubt about their skills, readiness, and value. Self-esteem increases with positive feedback, helpful critique, clear expectations, and good coaching.

Of course women do not need other things than men. But because the situation is different for them, due to implicit bias, and because of the numbers, organizations and teams have to actively ensure that these factors are met for women in tech.

InfoQ: When organizations adopt Scrum, what challenges can that bring for women?

Marsden: When we examine Scrum practices, they resonate with the kind of practices that work well for women and diverse teams. Nevertheless, Scrum has room for improvement.

Our redesign approach uses the principle of sneak attacks. We developed a 2x2 analysis matrix with key questions to help teams uncover gender issues in their adaption of Scrum. For example, group pressure is explicitly recommended to regulate work behavior and bring everyone into agreement. But group pressure is always at the expense of minorities. A simple practice like round-robin contributions can ensure that each person is heard, one idea at a time.

InfoQ: What makes work experience in tech more relevant for women than for men? How can we use this as a lever for change?

Marsden: Women’s work experience is not as positive as men’s. One reason is that they have to prove themselves over and over again, where men are assumed to be technical by default.

We all like to be around people that are "like-me". Men have like-me people around them in tech. Women don’t. So it is crucial to get more women into tech, making them visible, and making sure they stay.

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