In partnership with Women in Product Sydney, we are looking for other passionate product chicks to join us as we collaborate, mentor, inspire, chew the fat and support each other in all things product.
If you know a woman in product (or an aspiring one) please invite them to join. See you at the inaugural meetup event. Stay tuned…
This is a re-post of the article originally published by Bo Ren on the 15th of July 2016.
Bo has articulated (much more eloquently than me) many of the experiences and issues within the overtly gendered role of product management. Many thanks to Bo for her courage in sharing her experience and highlighting the need for change. Her article is re-published here with her permission.
Please note: my last day at Facebook was Friday, July 8th, 2016. I am no longer a Facebook employee nor am I writing on behalf of the company. This is my own personal experience and opinion on cracking into product management from a diverse, nontraditional path as a female minority PM. The intention of this story is to raise awareness about how complicit people in power are perpetuating a broken system that is not merit based to minorities and women. I want to raise awareness to invisible forces at play by pointing out disparities and equipping my readers with coping mechanisms and a call to action for reform.
Facebook recently released its diversity numbers. Despite its best efforts — hiring a global diversity chief and marshaling resources — it continues to struggle with hiring women and minorities in technical and leadership roles.Not much has changed in the last two years.
If diversity were a product that launched 2 years ago it would be considered a failure. A product that stagnates for two years has a growth problem.
When I wanted to become a product manager five years ago, I was told by countless people that I wasn’t technical enough (no CS degree), that I needed a MBA, that I didn’t fit into the Stanford cookie cutter mold (I went to USC on full ride scholarship instead). A lot of nay sayers. At my first startup, the director of PM told me he had never met someone like me before (I didn’t fit easily into a box). At my second startup, while aspiring to transition from being a technical project manager to product manager, the incoming VP of Product from Google changed the PM profile: you either had to have a CS degree or MBA to become a PM. Even existing product managers thought this was absurd since they would not have made the cut based on the new criteria. The invisible bar I had to hit to become a PM kept moving.
All the things that I secretly thought — I was lesser, different, and discriminated against coming from a non-technical, untraditional PM path — were true.
Words have power and the narratives we are told penetrate deep into our psyche. If you are told enough times that you’re not technical enough or good enough for a job, you start to believe that. This is stereotype threat in full effect.
A few weeks ago, I was shocked to see how blatantly easy it was for a white male colleague to become a product manager.
I had been training him to backfill my job after giving notice that I am moving to New York to join Tumblr. I had been training him for about a month to backfill my role so the team could operate smoothly in the next half (six month stretch) after I left.
Here are the facts:
My manager wanted to promote him to a PM despite internal HR requirements that internal transfers be on their current team for at least a year. He was still three months short from meeting that requirement. My manager bent over backwards to promote this guy and override HR.
In order to become a Facebook PM you need to go through the PM circuit where you are interviewed by three PMs for various aspects: execution, leadership, product sense, etc.
During our last 1:1, I asked him if I could help him prepare for his PM interview circuit. To my surprise, he replied“[They’ve] got my back, I’m not worried about it.” They referred to the two men in power in our organization.
I was taken aback by his arrogance, bravado, and confidence. Facebook’s PM circuit is not an easy interview process. In tech and other fields dominated by men, we over index on confidence instead of competence.
To pass the PM circuit at Facebook, I had done interview practices with multiple engineering and PM friends, read Jackie Bavaro’s book Cracking the PM Interview, crawled Quora and Glassdoor for practice questions, and whiteboarded whole weekends solving Fermi problems and product hypotheticals. You can read more about my interview experience at Facebookhere.
I had pored over 100 hours preparing for my PM interviews whereas this dude thought he didn’t need to prepare because two men in leadership had his back.
I had to work 100X harder. Yet, up until that point, I felt lesser like something was wrong with myself. I had been told that “you don’t fit into the profile of a Facebook PM.” I had beaten myself up for not being technical enough, aggressive enough, outspoken enough etc. I am creative and think expansively. I am a zero to one PM who can build something from nothing instead of making micro-optimizations on existing products. Yet my strengths were viewed as weaknesses in my manager’s eyes.
I realized in that moment, shocked by what I just heard, that I had earned my place as a PM. I fucking earned it because no one gave me the benefit of the doubt.
Women and minorities (especially double minorities) who want to pursue product management, design, or engineering are constantly told that they are not technical enough or good enough to become X. But here stands in front of me this white dude with no PM experience — less than a year’s worth of experience on my team — who flagrantly thinks he didn’t need to prepare for the rigorous PM interview circuit.
Why do we doubt ourselves?
Why do we try so hard to prove ourselves?
Why do we mistake our strengths for weaknesses?
Why do we blame ourselves for failures and variables out of our control?
Why did we believe that we are inferior to men with CS majors?
Because we are told that we don’t cut it, even when we have the same or higher qualifications. There is a gulf between a privileged mediocre candidate and an excellent minority candidate. It’s the tension between the B, B+, B- folks versus the A, A-, A+ folks. Yet, even after college, there’s still grade inflation for mediocre white men.
It is flawed to look to women in power as indicators of progress in diversity. Just having Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, and Mary Barra (all white women) in power is not enough for furthering diversity. If you are an excellent, smart, Ivy League graduate who is an early employee of a big tech company, you are going to do just fine despite difficulties and biases along the way. But what about the the other candidates who are not as fortunate?
Instead what we should look to is intersectionality in race, gender, age, and culture as markers of progress. How many Asian American, African American, Hispanic women, LGBT members are leading companies?
The gap between what’s preached and practiced at tech companies creates disillusionment.
The world is not fair so let’s not pretend it is in a politically correct environment. In fact, it does women and minorities more disservice to be indoctrinated into believing that they will be treated fairly when they won’t be. When a company’s values are so inconsistent with your own personal experience at that company, the best way to rationalize that disconnect is to blame the situation on yourself. Women do this all the time asking themselves what did I do wrong? Why didn’t I react differently in that situation? We beat ourselves up even when we should be looking at the unfavorable situations where we couldn’t win in the first place.
I will tell my daughter that she will be treated differently and discouraged to pursue technical and management roles. But I will also tell her to ignore the naysayers and not let anyone tell her something isn’t possible. She is going to prove people wrong.
It’s sad reading the amount of discrimination women and minorities face in tech. Reading the stats makes me want to quit tech. Venture capitalists and tech companies saying that it’s a funnel or pipeline problem and not an actual discrimination problem makes me even more sad. It makes me sad because it’s simply not true.
I’m tired of being sad.
What is not sad is rising above all the hardships and acknowledging that you earned it. You beat the odds getting to where you are. No one gave us any breaks or short cuts, we made it here despite the naysayers, institutional bias, and tech company profiles.
I love being a double minority (woman and a minority) because I know I have earned my success. No one gave it to me.
I earned it. You earned it. We earned it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
For far too long I have been afraid to write about diversity, afraid of the repercussions, afraid that I will burn bridges, afraid that I will be viewed as a disgruntled employee, afraid that I will be deemed as the next Yelp girl. But I can’t not write about this social issue. The needle is moved when people become uncomfortable by the facts and stories. Stories build a pattern. Patterns point to a trend.
As technologists, we solve problems.
We need to be as rigorous about solving the diversity problem in tech as we are in solving product problems at our respective companies.
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. Diverse teams build better products, better products yield more revenue, more revenue creates happy investors and shareholders. Diversity is a bottomline for every business.
If you are a manager, director, VP, or founder, be conscious of who you promote. Are you promoting someone because they are similar to you or because they are competent? Are you hiring or promoting based on potential vs. proven track record? If based on potential, are you applying that fairly to women AND men? People who look like you and who DON’T look like you?
If you are a recruiter, don’t hire on “culture fit”. This is a BS rationalization of promoting one culture — white frat boy “brogrammer” — over all others. Please stop telling your candidates that you are hiring them because they are diverse candidates. Tell them they earned it. You nip the impostor syndrome in the bud when you tell them they’ve earned it. Tell them that they got the offer besides embodying attributes that fit into your hiring quota. Tell your candidate that he/she is just as capable as someone who comes from privilege.
Do your part. Don’t become complicit in this broken system. Let’s take a new look into diversity and solve its growth problem. Together, we can do this.
The speaker line up for Leading the Product has been finalised and it looks amazing. Those of you who attended last year’s inaugural event will know what a great day of insights, networking and learning Leading the Product is. This year promises to be equally as inspiring and thought provoking:
DAMON PEZARO, CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER
Damon Pezaro is the Chief Product Officer at Domain Group. Damon is an experienced digital leader and has been working within the digital and online landscapes for over 15 years. Having worked in several start-ups dating back to 1999 and more recently across large corporate environments; he has lived through seeing how the changing digital landscape and subsequent technology has played its’ part in forcing executives, businesses and consumers to adopt a new way of thinking.
His experience has seen him leading product and technology teams at some of Australia’s largest media companies, he has filled key operational roles across several start-up successes and joined the Domain Group in January 2013
DAN OLSEN, PRODUCT MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT
AUTHOR OF THE LEAN PRODUCT PLAYBOOK
At Olsen Solutions, Dan works with CEOs and product leaders to build great products and strong product teams, often as interim VP of Product. His clients include Facebook, Box, Microsoft, Medallia, and One Medical Group. Prior to consulting, Dan worked at Intuit, where he led the Quicken product team. He also led product management at Friendster and was the cofounder and CEO of TechCrunch award winner YourVersion, a personalized news startup. He earned engineering degrees from Northwestern and Virginia Tech and an MBA from Stanford.
Dan is founder of the Lean Product & Lean UX Silicon Valley Meetup, the largest product-focused meetup in the San Francisco Bay Area with over 3,300 members.
JEN FLYNN, HEAD OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT
Jen Flynn is Head of Product Management at Sportsbet, part of the International gaming company Paddy Power Betfair. With over 15 years’ experience, Jen has demonstrated success in building and leading product managers and practises across multiple verticals and geographies.
Prior to Sportsbet, Jen lead product functions at REA Group and Truvo and has a BSc in Applied Physics and Chemistry from Trinity College, Dublin.
CAMERON ADAMS, CO-FOUNDER AND CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER
Cameron is a co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Canva, an online design platform that has quickly become one of the most exciting startups in Australia.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Law/Bachelor of Science from the University of Melbourne in 2001, Cameron started a design consultancy that has done work for global clients such as Atlassian, NEC, TEDx and Sydney Festival.
When Google came knocking in 2007 he couldn’t resist the call and spent the next 3 years helping Lars and Jens Rasmussen – co-founders of Google Maps – realise the design vision for their ground-breaking communication tool Google Wave.
In 2011 he founded an ambitious email startup with two other Google alumni before meeting Mel and Cliff and deciding to help them build the beginnings of Canva. He now leads the product strategy and design for Canva’s apps, which grew from 1.5 million users to over 7 million users in 2015 alone.
Through his work and his writing – which spans five books and numerous articles – Cameron has contributed to the foundations that underpin modern web design and has been asked to speak around the world at events such as South by Southwest, CeBIT and Web Directions.
LUCIE MCLEAN, HEAD OF PRODUCT FOR CHILDREN’S
Lucie McLean is Head of Product for Children’s at the BBC in Salford, England.
She has worked for the BBC for 19 years – nine years in journalism and ten years in product management. Most of her product career has been in mobile products and she led the teams which developed the mobile website and award-winning BBC app for the London 2012 Olympics and the hugely successful BBC Sport app. She now leads the teams developing the BBC’s websites and apps for Children.
She is passionate about increasing diversity in digital organisations and helping those new to the digital world embrace the opportunities it offers. She is also her final year at Manchester Metropolitan University, completing an Executive MBA.
KARA DEFRIAS, SENIOR ADVISOR
18F DIGITAL SERVICES
Kara’s background is a unique mix of private and public sector experience, including an appointment to the first class of White House Presidential Innovation Fellows. She currently serves as Senior Advisor to the head of 18F, a digital services agency inside the United States government that’s transforming it from the inside out. Previous experience includes the Oscars, Super Bowl, and FIFA Women’s World Cup.
A do-gooder junkie, Kara has done pro-bono communications, product strategy, and UX for the likes of TEDxSanDiego and Team Rubicon; spent 10 days in rural India teaching innovation and business skills to micro-entrepreneur women; and guest lectures at University of California San Diego STEM Academy for high school girls.
Christina is VP of Product at Zinc (formerly known as Cotap), the all-in-one communication platform built for business. She has 10 years of experience building communication apps for work at Yammer, Microsoft, and BlackBerry. Hailing from the Great White North, she graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Bachelor of Computer Science.
Ash Donaldson is Principal Behaviour Design & Innovation Consultant for Tobias & Tobias Australia, a design and innovation consultancy on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. He has spent the past couple of decades studying, practising, and promoting all aspects of human centred design – from Human Factors and User Experience to Behavioural Economics.
He has extensive in the industry with opportunities to work on many interesting projects, from doing the early research and design of Wotif.com to designing the new Intelligent Deposit ATMs for National Australia Bank.
Ash is passionate about understanding how people perceive and process information and using that knowledge to predictably affect their behaviours.
Early Bird and Clever Bird tickets have already sold out (Melbourne) and remaining tickets are selling quickly. Last year there were many disappointed people, who left their run too late and missed out!
Join me and the Brisbane product community as we debate and discuss the role of gender in product management.
Guest Presentation: Does Gender Play a Role in Product Management?
Thursday, Jun 2, 2016, 5:45 PM
everydayhero office Level 8, 333 Ann St Brisbane, AU
19 Product People Attending
The 2016 Pragmatic Marketing Global Product Management survey found that 63% of product managers are male, increasing to 79% for more senior product roles.While gender equity issues persist within corporate Australia more generally, in a role where stakeholder influence and the ability to manage across multiple domains is critical, what role does …
JTBD takes the focus away from feature sets. Instead the core focus moves to understanding what it that the product is solving for; the customer need; the job the customers are going to use the product for and how to solve for that.
Last night I led a discussion at the Product Talks Sydney in relation to the role of gender in product management.
One of the reasons I started thatproductchick was because, as a woman in product management, I felt disconnected from much of the product management discussion and representation. When you search for “product manager” online, for example, overwhelmingly the imagery and language is male.
In my product management career to date, I have encountered both overt and implicit gender bias. With experience (and many mistakes!), I have learned how to be effective and overcome these challenges. As with any implicit behaviour however, they are difficult to identify, navigate and ultimately change. (Any product manager who has explored the role of behavioural economics in service and product design will know how powerful implicit belief systems are.)
Below is a brief excerpt from last night’s presentation, outlining things product managers and leaders can do to to address gender bias and make the product community reflective of the community in which our products and services thrive:
Don’t hold yourself back – work outside your comfort zone and take the opportunities that come your way
Be explicit about your career aspirations and choices. Ask for and participate in professional development and training
Keep real-time records – objective metrics and compliments that you can use in your performance conversation and be prepared substantiate and highlight your achievements
Don’t undermine yourself – be quietly confident
Watch out for being unfairly assigned ‘office housework’. Be strategic about what you say yes to and what you say no to
Know your product portfolio financialsand metrics – metrics are hard to argue against; they build your credentials and can bridge divides based on stereotypes or biases
Actively engage stakeholders early and frequently – even the tough ones.
As a product leader (both women and men), actively hire for diversityand inclusion. Be conscious of your inherent bias.
Support your team to work across (and up) your organisational structure
A big shout out to Adrienne and Nick from Brainmates for hosting last night’s event.
As a Product Manager I am often working towards the launch and development of an MVP – Minimum Viable Product. An MVP is a great means to launch quickly and effectively in market; to test and learn, iterate and refine. It should not, however be confused with a go-to-market short cut.
In developing an MVP you can’t negate good product management disciplines:
Know what market or customer problem you are solving for – what is the job to be done?
What does success look like? How will you measure success – unit sales; conversion; customer satisfaction; utilisation. Make sure that you have defined measures which are actionable. If you can’t do anything against your measures then they are worthless.
An MVP does not mean you don’t have to take care in both product and user experience design. Test your MVP before you take it to market. I like to do this across a number of iterations and/or channels; internally, online and with real, live prospects/customers.
Engage the business. Make sure that your key stakeholders across the business understand the value your proposition will deliver and their respective roles in testing, iterating and embedding it in market.
Lastly, make sure you have a well defined exit strategy. Hopefully your MVP has been strategically developed against a set of core business objectives. However, if for some reason you take it to market and it fails, you need to know when to pivot, when to refine and when to exit.