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8 empowering articles on fostering diversity in product management

8 empowering articles on fostering diversity in product management

Pride month is upon us. The streets of San Francisco (and many other cities) will soon be full of colorful floats, rainbow flags, flamboyant costumes, and an exorbitant amount of glitter. But Pride is more than just a celebration — it is a passionate outcry for equal rights and a more inclusive world.

In a show of solidarity, many San Francisco-based tech companies have updated their company logos to represent the rainbow flag. This is a small part of a larger trend where tech companies actively champion diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace. At Zendesk, for example, Zendesk Pride provides a safe space for the company’s LGBTQ+ community. Apple, arguably the most impactful tech company in the world, recently hired a new head of diversity and inclusion to diversify their workforce. At Salesforce, equality is codified directly into the company’s core values.

While these are clear signs of progress, we still have a lot of work to do before we achieve parity. 76% of technical roles are still held by men, and 95% of tech workers are white. At productboard, we are committed to doing our part to change this status quo, and a big part of it is recognizing that we still have a lot to learn. That’s why we’ve put together a reading list to educate ourselves — and hopefully others — with thought leadership from product experts that are leading the crusade for a more diverse tech industry.

The pieces below cover the need for a rainbow of voices in product, why diverse product teams lead to more innovation, and, for the business-minded, how diversity trumps talent when it comes to the bottom line. Let’s get reading.

To thrive, product teams need diverse talent — a former Uber product leader explains why

By Emi Tabb

Why read?

Mina Radhakrishnan spent close to a decade working at some of the most well-known and sought-after tech companies in the world. In the thick of the action, she witnessed what happens when the same types of people build the same kinds of products for the same sets of users (hint, it’s not good). In a chat with Mixpanel, Mina explains why echo chambers do not produce great products, how diversity can drive lasting product success, and ways to prioritize diversity in the product hiring process. It’s an insightful read full of rich observations like the one below.

Notable quote

“There is nothing wrong with tackling the problems that we see in front of us – those are often the ones we’re best equipped to solve. But when only certain kinds of people get a slice of the pie, the same kinds of products get built. Conversely, the more identities, backgrounds, and experiences represented by founders and product managers, the more problems solved, the more user perspectives understood, and the more products launched by teams who have a handle on how the world will receive them.”

Why diversity isn’t just right, but smart

By Martin Eriksson

Why read?

Mind the Product co-founder Martin Eriksson argues that in addition to being the right thing to do, diversity is also the smart thing if your goal is to build successful products and businesses. Diverse teams better empathize with the users they build products for, and are better equipped to solve broad product challenges. Not to mention that diversity is proven to significantly improve financial performance. It’s a worthwhile read for those who aren’t yet convinced that diversity is good for increasing the bottom line.

Notable quote

“Building great things requires diversity of age, skills, and experience. We call that people soup. Organizations need structure and hierarchy to get validated ideas built into products, but the initial ideation and concept development needs less structure and more chaos. Product creation needs the chaos of people soup.”

Portraying women in product management

By Ellen Chisa

Why read?

According to the media, women enter product management as a backup plan to pursuing engineering roles because they don’t have enough “hard” technical skills. Product leader Ellen Chisa is working hard to change this narrative. “You don’t end up as a PM by mistake,” she emphatically states, “you end up as a PM because you did a ton of work.” Dive into her piece to see how women have to fight hard to get a foot in the door of product management, then fight even harder to earn respect in their roles.

Notable quote

“We don’t celebrate women going into Product Management. Instead, we couch it as ‘well women don’t feel comfortable going into pure technology.’ We emphasize that ‘the role is full of soft skills.’ We discuss how it’s ‘non-threatening’ for developers to have female PMs. Then we assert that ‘pure technologists are the ones with all the respect.’ We never say ‘PMs are like mini-CEOs’ while talking about women in PM.”

Diversity and product innovation

By Wyatt Jenkins

Why read?

As product leader at Shutterstock, Hired, and now Patreon, Wyatt Jenkins has seen firsthand how diversity in problem-solving leads to product innovation. Diversity, to him, is defined not only by things you are born with — such as gender, race, sexuality, and age — but also by life experiences that you acquire over time. In this piece, he tells the story of how a diverse product team approached a single problem with their own unique perspectives and created immense value in the process. He also offers data-backed evidence on how diversity trumps ability.

Notable quote

“If we want to build products and services that the whole world wants to use, diversity in thinking is a strategic competitive advantage and product organizations that get this right will build the next generation of meaningful experiences.”

Diverse product leaders will redefine what leadership looks like for the better

By Yana Welinder

Why read?

As a product leader, Yana Welinder is often the only woman in the room during meetings. When asked how she uses her leadership role to advance diversity in product, she shares a deeply personal story that showcases the dire need for diverse leadership, then discusses the steps she takes to get more diverse candidates further in the hiring pipeline.

Notable quote

“But how do we actually enable diversity and inclusion when all our work models are designed around just one type of individual? The good news is that more and more people with different backgrounds are getting to leadership roles where they can redefine what leadership looks like. It’s a tricky balance because to get there we need to try to fit in and fake it till we make it. Once we’ve made it though, we can use that position of power to make the path for other people from diverse groups easier.”

Diversity in product management needs to go beyond a gender agenda

By Amanda Ralph

Why read?

While there has been a lot of focus on gender equity in product management (and rightfully so), Woman in Product Australia co-founder Amanda Ralph believes that another form of diversity is greatly overlooked — cognitive diversity. This is a challenge because cognition is less visible than other diversity markers such as gender, ethnicity, and age. To foster an environment of cognitive diversity, Amanda offers tips and tricks that teams can use to ensure that all perspectives are incorporated into product ideation and development.

Notable quote

As product managers, we need to work both broadly and deeply within our organisations to find innovative and compelling solutions to customer problems. Innovating and developing breakthrough propositions does not and cannot happen when we have a singular perspective and when we fail to constructively challenge and probe different ideas.

Diversity is a broken product in tech. FIX IT.

By Bo Ren

Why read?

Bo Ren is an investor, product manager, and writer. She previously worked at Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr, shaping the way these companies think about and launch new products. A vocal leader in the effort to build a more diverse and inclusive tech industry, she bravely writes about the challenges she faced in attaining her first product management role and raises a battle cry for companies to be as rigorous in solving the diversity problem as they are in solving product problems.

Notable quote:

“I am asking all companies to look at diversity as a broken product. What post-mortem analysis can we run to understand our stagnating numbers? How can we debug the reason why diversity numbers haven’t changed? What are some institutional biases we can tease out? What are some user studies we can run? Fix diversity. Fix it now…Diversity is a bottomline for every business.”

Women in product need to share their voices

By Jess Johnson

Why read?

From agile methodology and tactical best practices to managing a remote product team, there is an endless stream of digital content covering every aspect of product management. Still, Jess Johnson, Senior PM at Scribd, had a hard time finding pieces that resonated with her. In true PM fashion, she dug into the numbers to find out why. On Medium, she found that only 14% of “Top” product management articles were by women, and only 20% of “Latest” articles. This is her rallying cry for more women in product management to share their voices in the online content world.

Notable quote

“My guess is other women, like me, have been taught to speak out only when we’re certain. We know our mistakes are remembered longer. We don’t apply to roles we aren’t 100% qualified for. Writing is in a way an act of claiming expertise. What makes us feel qualified to speak up?”

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