There is a great deal of conversation around the lack of female representation in Silicon Valley. While striving for more equal demographics within the IT world is a worthy cause in its own right, it is actually to our industry’s detriment when we fail to actively include women on testing teams. Read on to learn why.
There is a great deal of conversation around the lack of female representation in Silicon Valley. While striving for more equal demographics within the IT world is a worthy cause in its own right, it is actually to our industry’s detriment when we fail to actively include women on testing teams. Thomas Jefferson once said, “Difference of opinion leads to enquiry, and enquiry to truth . . . .” Women’s typical cognitive differences make them invaluable to our testing teams.
First and foremost, cognitive differences are not an indication that one gender is more intelligent than another. Cognitive differences, in this case, just means that genders see the world differently. It is this perception in a few key areas that makes it imperative that teams include both men and women.
Verbal Episodic Memory Tasks
Verbal episodic memory is the personal memory of events, places, times, emotions, and context based on language. Women tend to be more adept than men at verbal episodic memory tasks such as remembering words, objects, pictures, and other everyday events with descriptive language. These skills permeate the testing lifecycle, whether it is remembering conversations about clarifying requirements or recalling details of a defect found during test execution.
Women’s general ability to remember details better stems from their utilization of both sides of their brains when paying attention. Note that this is not the same as multitasking. Using language skills from both sides of their brains allows women to take in, decipher, and contextualize more information from a given situation than men can.
Another difference is that women may need more words to understand a given context and tend to use more words when describing events, while men tend to need fewer words to understand a given context and use fewer words when describing events. For example, if a man and a woman were each trying to get people to guess the name of the book Moby Dick without using its title, the woman might say, “Call me Ishmael” and the man may more concisely say, “Ahab.”
Visuospatial Episodic Memory Tasks
Visuospatial episodic memory is the memory of events, places, times, emotions, and context based on the relationship of items in those memories to each other. Men tend to be more adept than women at remembering and describing events visuospatially. This is due primarily to men’s usage of only one brain hemisphere when focusing on events.
There are two main advantages to this approach. One is it enables men to focus more intently for longer periods of time. This was most likely developed as a result of men needing to maintain focus to hunt successfully. Secondly, men tend to have the advantage when relating one aspect of technology to another. In testing, there are times when intense focus and understanding of relationships is needed, such as when decomposing requirements, executing tests, or troubleshooting.
Quite a few disagreements between genders can be attributed to or exacerbated by these cognitive differences. Women may want to discuss a multitude of topics in a given conversation, whereas men might only want to focus on a single topic at a time. This can cause women to view men as being stubborn while causing men to see women as unfocused.
Additional challenges can occur when cognitive differences cause assumptions to put into play. Men want to jump to the point and begin a course of action immediately. Cognitively, their brains have already formulated an understanding of the topic and a plan. Women, on the other hand, generally want to discuss the topic and procedure thoroughly and ensure they are understood before embarking on a project. They know that more information needs to be communicated before understanding can be assumed. Having both genders understand these differences can help them communicate and work more effectively together.
Differences are Not Deficiencies
Society needs to understand that differences are not deficiencies—nor are they immutable. For example, it is often reported that boys do well in math while girls excel at reading and writing. In gender-neutral societies, with the same encouragement and lack of predisposition about unobtainability, girls and boys perform equally in these subjects.
Men and women can achieve the same result; they just cognitively get there differently. It is the same as women navigating via landmarks while men navigate via cardinal directions. Each method is viable, reliable, and achieves the same goal, but the process is different—not deficient. Gender differences are more pronounced on the context in which they were seen. In studies designed to eliminate gender norms, researchers demonstrated that gender roles and social context strongly determined a person's actions.
In the workplace, people conform to expectations of gender differences. Simply changing expectations of gender inequality can cause that phenomenon to evaporate.
Capitalize on Harmony
Teams need to understand, remember, and process details of events, conversations, and places. Teams also need the ability to juggle and switch between multiple unfinished tasks and to have a good understanding of systems, relationships, and requirements. Eliminating performance differences based on gender differences combined with equal encouragement will result in higher individual and team productivity. In essence, teams are better with deep involvement from both genders in a variety of tasks and hierarchical positions. From experience, I know we are all the better for it.