An interesting conversation the other day, and one that made me think. A designer on our product team gave his notice and so we had a role to fill. I brought this up at our weekly project leadership meeting. We have a few weeks to fill the role, and I needed to get started on it.

A few facts about our project:

  • We’re an agency working scrum for our client (and doing quite well, I’ll add). Our team consists of about 15 people. The product owner, is from the client and works from our office every day to be available and make decisions.
  • As an agency, we have a bench of talented designers, developers, content strategists, copywriters, etc. from which to pull a resource. In this particular case, we need to replace a visual designer.
  • We’re entering a new phase of the project, wherein we’re close to launching release 1 of the product. The client would like to continue working with us on related and additional projects, but has asked us to slim the team down to bring our weekly run-rate down. Also, through various reasons, we’ve had some churn already on the team with several people coming and going.

As we were leaving our meeting, one of the leads asked if we could talk about the role. I said, “sure” and we ducked into an empty conference room.

As we began, she pointed out to me the following:

  • Two people had recently rolled off the project for totally benign reasons (one took another job, the other because we needed to reduce the size of the team). Both were female.
  • We just rolled on a new team member to take over for another planning to leave the company next month. The departing team member is male; his replacement is too.
  • In filling that role, we had considered another potential replacement — who was female. Both were qualified and would do the job well.
  • The current make-up of the team is all male team members.

The lead asked me that in filling the new role, “Could you try to replace him with a female designer?”

None of this had occurred to me. I hadn’t noticed that the team was now all male (with the exception of several leads). I was truly shocked when she made this point to me.

And I’m glad that she did.

For various reasons — practical ones — diversity of experience and backgrounds make for better-designed products. On this project, we work in scrum where designers, QA, developers all work together so that we get to a better solution more quickly. That is because multiple perspectives come to bear on the problem(s) at hand. The benefit of these diverse perspectives does not come just from skillsets, but from the individuals themselves. So startled by this realization, I agree that we should fill the role with a qualified woman.

And I’m disappointed that it appears we will not be doing so.

I brought this issue with me to staffing as we worked to identify a replacement. All agreed that this is a worthwhile point to consider. Yet we still landed on a designer who was male. To be clear, this replacement is quite talented and should do very well in the role. Additionally, there were no female candidates in the immediate designer pool who had the seniority and experience required for the role.

I want to state that I was part of the decision and agree with it in this case. I am not laying the decision at the feet of others while distancing myself.

I just don’t feel good about having made the right decision here.

I share all of this because I believe it’s an important and too subtle thing that is easily missed. I am grateful for being reminded of it by my fellow lead. It is something I will endeavor to keep in mind in future allocation discussions. And I hope too that by sharing, it may equally resonate with others who, well-intended, may not think about this at first pass.

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