8 reads on diversity in product management for International Women’s Day
Happy International Women’s Day! We hope you join us in celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women around the world.
In honor of today, we’ve curated eight empowering reads from women leading the crusade for more diversity in product management. Read on for their wisdom on what it takes to become a better product leader, why diverse teams lead to better products, and how to get more diverse candidates further down the hiring pipeline.
By Hope Gurion
Product leader Hope Gurion is a self-identified “good girl.” She takes on “office housework” and always goes above and beyond to support her team. Yet being an effective product leader often means saying no — and no longer being a “good girl.” In a piece for Code Like a Girl, Hope shares a true story where she successfully pushes back on the requests of powerful stakeholders because they wouldn’t advance business goals.
“There’s a lot of emphasis in product to ‘always be shipping.’ Yet, when the effort to do so and the risk of being wrong is so high, I’ve got to suppress my desire to be the good girl and just say NO. I get shit done, but I refuse to waste my time working on actual shit…Being good and being nice feels natural, but the pain of opportunity cost and waste is stronger than my desire to be liked.”
By Emi Tabb
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.
“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.”
By Ellen Chisa
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.
“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.”
By Mekkie Bansil
Shelley Perry is a product leader focused on training and empowering product managers to assume CPO and Board Director roles, especially women. The CPO role has exploded in recent years, and it’s a universal playing field ripe with opportunities for women to step in. From becoming fluent in financials to mastering the art of influence without authority, Shelley has a wealth of advice to offer ambitious women looking to take the next step in their product careers.
“Instead of seeing a list of qualifications and saying I don’t have 10, say the 7 you do have. And say those with a vengeance.”
By Yana Welinder
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.
“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.”
By Amanda Ralph
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.
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.
By Bo Ren
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.
“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.”
By Jess Johnson
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.
“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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