Monday, February 27, 2017

Harassment is NOT Agile

Harassment is unacceptable always
Writing software is one of the few human activities we have not been able to automate.  This is why people like Angela Dugan and I say that software development is a messy process.  In spite of the education and training necessary to be a good software developer the technology business still struggles with misogyny.  If software development is going to become agiler, we will need to address these issues.

I have been adamant on this blog that the technology world needs to be more accommodating to women.  I have openly criticized the misogyny of others in the technology business.  This week Susan J. Fowler described her experiences working as an engineer for Uber.  I will let the blog post speak for itself.  As a developer, you should not have to put up with unwelcome sexual advances from management.  Also, when you make a credible accusation of harassment, it should be treated seriously by human resources.

I think this is part of what Slate magazine calls, "..the open hostility many technology firms have for women." I have noticed this throughout my career and have repeatedly called it out.  Women are just as good as men as software developers. Gender is not an obstacle to success in this field.

I suspect that misogynistic men join the software business for three principle reasons; 1) they like building things, 2) they like showing off their intelligence for ego gratification purposes, and 3) people in the technology business like creative destruction especially if you can flout social norms.

Building things is a natural human endeavor.  Building things are traditionally masculine in many cultures.  Thus, women involved with technology could be regarded with suspicion because they took part in a traditionally male activity.  Since the rise of second-wave feminism, men have been pushing back in the indiscrete ways to women who want to participate in manly activities.  I firmly believe that this is insecurity on the part of some men who feel threatened by women competing with them for success.

Since the early days of Western civilization, men have enjoyed bragging.  They would brag about athletic prowess and business success. Scientists and philosophers would opine about their intelligence to anyone who would listen.  Over the last four thousand years, men continue to do these things and being the smartest, best, and most successful engineer is a gateway to more success.  Thus, the engineering culture of software includes plenty of people who are willing to tell you how smart they are.  A select few can back up that claim.  Throwing women into this completive and egotistical environment is a recipe for harassment.

Finally, the notion of creative destruction appeals to many.  For the smart but emotionally unintelligent, an algorithm is a tool for vengeance for every playground bully, spurned romance or humiliation suffered.  Success is the best revenge and what better revenge than to ruin someone who metaphorically kicked sand in your face financially.  For the people who are not technically gifted but are more emotionally intelligent and competitive, the world of technology gives them a place to move fast, take names, and amass lots of money and power.  Naturally, these folks gravitate to sales and management.

Combine the need to build things with egotistical preening and the ability to engage in creative destruction; you have a toxic stew of masculinity which is particularly hostile to female engineers.  If the technology business wants to become more agile and fruitful, this kind of behavior needs to stop before a sexual harassment suit with punitive damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars shuts down a promising technology company.

Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment or hostile workplaces are antithetical to Agile.  It undermines trust on software teams.  It halts the exchange of ideas at the firm.  Finally, it creates an environment of fear which acts as cancer on any organization.  As Agile Coaches or Scrum Masters, we need to be on the front lines and help manage this behavior out of any organization.  What happened to Susan Fowler should not happen to anyone at any company.  That fact it happened at a technology company makes me doubly determined to make sure it does not occur at any technology company I am associated.

Until next time.