• Teri Christian

Does Agile Promote Oppression?

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

The four I's of oppression can be seen in so many ways if you start looking for them. While diversity training is a start to understand Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, it is the first step of a 10,000 step journey.

This morning I made my first visit to the hotel gym since the Covid pandemic. The hotel only allows one person at a time during Covid. Upon entry the room was dimly lit so I was able to see well enough to walk to the treadmill and start my session. I did not turn on the lights as I was required to be alone and my eyes are sensitive. Dim lighting gives me one less physical battle to fight as I struggle with the battle of the bulge.

The desk person came in and flipped the lights on and said, "I don't want you to have to work out in the dark." Not wanting to hurt his feelings (I think) I did not protest as I continued my workout.

Afterwards I thought, wow, that was aligned to the ideology of oppression. The need to control another person's body, environment, whatever from the idea that there is a better, more accepted way. (on a very micro level)

What amazed me is I just accepted this act, even though it caused me physical strain, I still felt like I needed to go along with the change. But why? Did I not want to hurt his feelings? Because he is male, the person 'in charge' the keeper of the rules?? I don't know? But it got me thinking more. I wonder how often I do such things without much thought at all.

So let's break this down, what exactly is oppression and how does it cause inequity in our lives?

First, What are the Four I's of Oppression? As documented in the article, by the Colorado Inclusive Funders [1] there are:

  1. Ideological - the idea that one group is somehow better than another.

  2. Institutional - the idea that one group is better than the other and has the right to control the other through embedded systems.

  3. Interpersonal - the idea that one group is better than another and as the right to control the other systems that gives permission of those in the dominant group to mistreat others in a the oppressed group.

  4. Internalized - the oppressor does not have to exert any more pressure because we now do it to ourselves and each other.

These four I's of oppression make it impossible for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to exist in any environment. Taking training and hiring the right people is not going to solve this issue for humans, companies or society. We need to get to the root cause and begin there.

Is it possible that we, "Agilists", use forms of oppression to disengage and promote exclusivity?

1. Do Certifications (or the love of them) create Institutional Oppression?

The first thing that comes to mind is the myriad of certifications that exist in our world. Isn't that a form of Institutional Oppression? Please do not misunderstand, it is not the certifications that are the problem, no more than money is the root of all evil. It is the love of the certification, the stature and exclusivity it provides. It just doesn't feel right given the first of four concepts in the Agile Manifesto says we value individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Yet we seem to use these agile "religions' to create "isms" that promote exclusivity.

2. Are people punished or excluded?

What happens when someone isn't following our perceived agile religious rules? I myself have lost jobs and opportunities because I refused to follow the religious rules that are often unapologetically imposed. This behavior is promoted by agile religious beliefs and have damaged an uncountable mass.

What about something as simple as collecting thoughts on post-it notes. This practice is supposed to create inclusion and equity and does for many. But does it for all? What if you physically cannot write legibly (this has happened)? Or you are blind? Or in a wheelchair and cannot reach the board where they are posted. How do we hear these voices?

3. Do we cause internalized damage?

The change fatigue inflicted on others through following our agile religious ceremonies is nearly unforgivable. The deafening cries of blame when a certain "framework" doesn't work as we jump to yet another framework seem to fall on deaf ears. This behavior of blame is damaging to ourselves as we are unable to learn and others who are blamed.

When we turn our backs on common sense and logic to follow the religions to which we have ascribed we develop oppressive institutions that are exclusive rather than inclusive. I don't think this was the intent of the Agile Manifesto.

Instead of focusing on the institutions of agility as our bible, why not examine how we fit approaches together and the flexibility realized when we have a full tool kit for systemic change. Let's be agile - "quick, well-coordinated movement, nimble" over following a religion.

What if we look for the good? I find myself more attracted to people who live out agile behaviors over those who are representing a "religion." Fortunately, I met people who embodied agility early in my journey as I am afraid I would have thrown out the baby with the agile bathwater if not.

WE can remove the need for systemic control. We can recognize and reward positive behaviors and overcome our biases. It just takes a little effort, everyday, that never ends!

Agile community, we can do better!

Let's choose a better way and teach that way to others through leading by example. What if we move to an open operating model? To a system that is inclusive, where we look for ways to learn and grow from others. To a way of communicating that respects others by listening.

Why not create listening loops based on curiosity that promotes learning? We can use parallel communication methods to spark creativity and ideas. WE have the tools, let's get good at using them first, then teach others. We can create systems and patterns that can be repeated and choose to do better and improve our lives and the lives of others.

Powers Digital Solutions is committed to making this difference.. We do this through helping organizations implement a Digital Operating model that leverages Diverse Communication. In everything we do we put focus on people first, followed by processes that re-enforce an inclusive environment where every voice is valued and heard.

Are we experts? By no means, we are not and never will be. But we are aware and striving to help ourselves and others get on the journey. It is just about helping ourselves and others become aware and then have the needed conversations to continuously improve. WE do not have the corner market on this and don't want it. We simply want others to consider how they can create open systems that help people and customers improve, resulting in a better place to live.

When I go back to the gym, I am going to thank the person who turned the light on for his kindness and then let him know my preference. After that I will listen. Maybe we both can grow a little. It just takes a little effort everyday to make a big change, one small step at a time.

UPDATE: I had a discussion with the person at the front desk, his name is Terry, and learned a lot more about him, how the pandemic is affecting him and his motivation. We both learned much. This is the desired outcome. If we don't see it, we cannot fix it.

[1] http://www.coloradoinclusivefunders.org/uploads/1/1/5/0/11506731/the_four_is_of_oppression.pdf

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