Working on a paper about women in software development

dandelionI just submitted a paper on agile values and the underrepresentation of women in software development.

This is not an original topic but the research I’ve read has focused on how women who participate in agile practices, particularly XP pair programming have more favorable impressions of the work and of their ability to contribute both of which are correlated to entering the occupation.1,2

My belief is that agile practices are tools but it is the agile values that give us the urgency, courage and insight to wield those tools towards a desired outcome.

That is, we are much more capable of making software development more tolerant and inviting of diversity if we believe we should do this as part of our core mission as Agilists to develop with craft and quality and to deliver value to our employers and our end users (do not forget).

So, the rough outline of my paper is this:

  • The shortage of women entering software development and disproportionate share of women leaving mid-career is real and measurable and well documented.
  • The problem is worse in IT than it is in almost all other areas of STEM because, unusually, the percentage of women in software development has actually declined over the last 20 years.
  • This shortage and particularly the attrition of experienced women developers represents a material burden to our industry.
  • Product teams that represent the diversity of their customers have a potential advantage in developing products that appeal to that diverse customer base
  • Women are at least the equals of men when it comes to influencing consumer technology spending and online activity
  • Therefore, it is in the interest of the industry to educate, recruit and retain women developers
  • Agile is a collection of practices united by a coherent set of principles
  • As agile becomes mainstream it is more important than ever that practitioners understand and embody these principles
  • The creators of the Agile Manifesto realize this and are calling us to a principled approach to our work
  • These principles are at stake when it comes to things that affect the competitiveness, insight into end users, and potential for innovation in our teams
  • If we engage our agile practices behind this principled cause we can begin to remove the impediments within our own organizations to the recruitment and retention of women
  • When we do, we will influence larger changes across the industry, within education and in society

I’ll go into more detail and try to defend my arguments in later posts. In the meantime, I’m happy to engage with anyone who finds fault in my premise.

1S. Berenson and K. Slaten. “Voices of women in a software engineering course” in JERIC, vol. 4.1, Mar. 2004.

2O. Hazzan and Y. Dubinsky. “Empower Gender Diversity with Agile Software Development” in Encyclopedia of Gender and Information Technology. E. Taugh, Ed. Hershey, PA: IGI-Global, 2006, pp 249-256.


Comment from reader
Time: April 11, 2012, 11:59 am

Studies have shown over and over again that gender stereotyping prevent women from considering a career in technology and gender stereotyping prevent women from having successful careers in technology. Studies show that men are overrated in technology while women are consistently underrated in technology. Women behave to this expectation by giving up on technology while men just try harder and get by with mediocre abilities (as their gender allows this). Women are not given much credit even when they are highly skilled technical people. This gender bias is a big big problem and does drive women from/ends/prevents their technical careers. It is called covert exclusion.