Individuals, Not Groups

Individuals, Not Groups
June 13, 2014

Doug asked a couple of thought provoking questions in his recent blog post about gender equality:

What is unique about women that make them not just equal, but superior on software development teams? How can our differences make stronger teams and a stronger industry?

I really struggled with this question. My attempt to break this question down gave rise to a few different questions. What kinds of things would make one superior on a software development team? Where would that superior trait stem from? Would it be due to whether an individual happens to be a woman? Would all women have this trait?

I can't honestly provide one answer to this question, before digressing into pure physical differences, unless there is possibly something to be derived from being part of an underrepresented group - women - in our specific workplace. Does being in the gender minority in the workplace possibly convey an added drive or a heightened sense of competitiveness? That could possibly be a superior trait to have, but it seems that it would more closely depend on an individual's personality and character. Does this woman happen be an athlete and enjoy competition? Does this woman happen to really enjoy learning new things in an uncompetitive environment? A naive, stereotypical, probably offensive response to this question would be that women are more in touch with their and others emotions, or are more right brain thinkers, while men are more left brain thinkers.

The conclusion I ultimately come to is that superiority isn't to be found by randomly selecting one person from one group. We shouldn't be desiring women on our development teams simply because women bring something different to the table. People with superior traits bring superior traits to the table. We need to start including women on our software teams because you're more likely to find the people with superior traits if you're not excluding an entire group of people from your possibilities. From a business perspective, it's just math. From a humanistic perspective, it's just the right thing to do.

As individuals, we are not all equal in the skills that we can bring to different jobs. As groups, men or women, we are equal. We are equal in that both men and women have the potential to be superior software developers. The problem is that many individuals, mostly men, have forgotten, or have been taught, that these groups are different when it comes to the potential for traits that we want in software developers, or any vocation. The easy solution is to stop talking in terms of groups and focus on individuals. If an individual can bring something to my software team, I'd like them on it. If an individual is made uncomfortable in our work environment, we should address it.

So, what is it about women that make them not just equal, but superior on software development teams? Well, they could have a lot of experience working with Javascript frameworks, or they could be really passionate about new technologies, or they could be really good at modeling data, or they could give great feedback on code reviews, or they could know a lot of different design patterns, or they could communicate very effectively with clients, or they could know everything there is to know about Ruby. They could be a lot of things that would make a superior software team member. But you'll never find out if you approach women, or any group for that matter, with the idea that being part of that group inherently cultivates or stifles certain skills that you desire on your team.