Applied DE&I in Product: Panel Discussion with Product School Instructors

Product Inclusion

Our Product School community has spent the month of February talking about all things related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I). We invited four of our instructors to join a panel discussion, with the goal of sharing their experiences as POC/WOC in the tech industry, and to leave the audience with actionable advice on championing the cause of DE&I in Product.

Meet the Panelists:

Dessy Kadriyani,  Senior Product Manager at Amazon

Dessy Kadriyani

Dessy Kadriyani is a Product Leader with experience working with technology companies in five continents (North America, LATAM, Asia, Europe, and Sub-saharan Africa).

She’s passionate about building products that customers love and has worked with a wide range of companies: from start-ups in a garage to unicorns and even a FAANG company.

Anvesh Tripathi, Senior Product Manager at Zalando

Anvesh Tripathi

Anvesh Tripathi is an experienced Product Manager having built products in start-ups as well as corporates.

His data-driven approach combined with strong product artifacts has been his core strength. He has worked in varied industries like eCommerce, auto-tech, and insure-tech. He is currently working as a Senior Product Manager at Zalando. Prior to working in Zalando, he worked in an Indian unicorn CarDekho where he led customer engagement programs.

Aishwarya Sharma, Senior Product Manager at Amazon

Aishwarya is a Senior Product Manager currently working at Amazon and focused on building internal scheduling tools.

Over the last eight years, she has worked on a wide range of products spanning across multiple industries to launch products in FinTech, electronics (B2B & B2C), smart home technologies, and SaaS solutions. 

Lenworth Gordon, Senior Product Manager at Amazon

Lenworth Gordon is a seasoned Product Architect, bringing to his position over 19 years of extensive experience designing and implementing consumer products and complex enterprise systems.

Today, Lenworth leads the company’s efforts at Amazon as a Senior Technical Product Manager, driven by a passion for invention and customer obsession.

Applied Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Product

Watch the full panel discussion below or keep scrolling for key insights!

Can you tell us a little about your experience of being a WOC/POC in Product Management?

Anvesh: I’m an Indian, and I’ve been working in Berlin for some time. As a matter of fact, there is a positive aspect to stereotypes for Indians. It’s thought that we have strong analytical abilities which works in my favor, but sometimes it does reflect a stereotype that I’m not very comfortable with. I’ve sometimes had a very hard time with it…and I’ve seen some of my colleagues not being treated equally. Personally, overall, it has been a positive experience for me however.

Aishwarya:  I’m a new mother, a woman of color, and I’ve been in the tech industry for quite a while. And honestly, I feel fortunate to work in the tech industry. I want to start out by recognizing the enormous amount of effort that this industry has taken to make the space inclusive enough to make sure that I still have my career growth while maintaining the other aspects of my life. It’s not what it used to be when I started back in the day, but it has been largely positive. It’s commendable how the tech industry has evolved. We’ll talk more about DE&I and how we need to bridge some gaps, but the tech industry so far has been a very rewarding place to be.

Dessy: I’d like to echo that, I do think that the tech industry has strived to be more inclusive. But I’d like to pull up some stats, which I find interesting. 62% of tech jobs are held by white people, then second is Asian with 20%, and the black and latin share of tech jobs is even smaller. Compared to the normal population, these groups are falling behind. So I do think we are striving to be inclusive, but we’re not there yet.

I think once we go deeper into the conversation, we will touch on that as well from the personal experience side. As we all probably know here in this room, a lot of Product work involves influencing different stakeholders. Which is easier to do if you’re coming from the same background, have the same education background, come from the same town, even  like the same sports team, et cetera. I think as a woman and as a minority, and especially as an international, sometimes it’s hard to relate to all of those things.  

Even if, on a technical side, I understand how the process works. When I go into a meeting room it’s hard to relate to the topic of conversation. And you think these things don’t matter, but then when it’s a matter of getting the promotion or taking a relationship to the next level, it all matters. And I sometimes find myself struggling a little bit there.

Lenworth:  Also being in the industry for many years, it’s lonely to be frank,  when there is that small of a representation of people with the same cultural background. There are a lot of times when you’re the only one in the room and, lonely is the best way to describe it. As mentioned before, there are stereotypes to battle. Where some things would be taken for granted in my caucasian counterparts, I would have to prove my knowledge, my background, and my value to the team. So it’s really a mindset change. That’s very hard for a lot of people to unlearn, to kind of embrace diversity as an advantage, as a business advantage and as a market advantage.

And the job of disrupting those stereotypes is often given to people of color. We’re tasked with bringing that knowledge to people, which is an extra load on top of the regular work that you have to do. 

You might also be interested in: Championing DE&I and Creating Safe Spaces as a Product Leader

“If we step away from the human element of DE&I, where we’re just trying to give people an enjoyable place to work, what are the other benefits of DE&I in Product?

Lenworth: At Amazon, just look at the customers we serve. The people serving the customers should look like the customers, so we can get a diverse set of viewpoints and a diverse set of empathy for them. So you don’t miss something. I mean, we’ve seen a lot of huge companies make very big public mistakes, just by not taking into account diversity when they put together an ad campaign. It seems so obvious in hindsight, but if the right people were in the room, making the decisions perhaps they wouldn’t have made that misstep. So yeah, it’s definitely a secret to success.

Dessy: Apart from the customer and product, which is super close to our hearts, it’s definitely attracting talent too. In this room, you all probably joined your current company because they are accepting of a diverse workforce and it’s exciting to work in a company where you can meet like-minds. So companies can also use that, and attract talent by promoting diversity.

group of people sitting beside rectangular wooden table with laptops

What steps can be taken to make the tech industry more inclusive?

Anvesh: I think one very important thing is to have a culture that makes people comfortable sharing and coming forward with their problems. And second, it’s very important for the team leader to have these kinds of conversations more often. One example that I can give is that in our team we have a meeting twice a month where we just discuss problems and the solutions that can make our team culturally work better. It has nothing to do with product problems, features or anything like that. It’s just about if anyone is uncomfortable about anything. So there is this structure or framework that we have, for example, we do an activity where we lay down all the cultural issues we have in the team, and how we can actually come up with a solution.

We do it quite often because as I mentioned, there are people from different backgrounds that are there in the team, and it’s very important for them to feel comfortable sharing their ideas because a lot of times people have issues. For example, English is one of the languages that is there for conversing in our company, but people are coming from different backgrounds, they have different accents. And so there is a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication, which happens. So it’s really important for everyone to come around to help each other. And everyone understands that these kinds of problems do come up. I’ve seen that it’s working, this way of talking openly and often.

You might also be interested in: Diversity and Inclusion in Product: Why It Matters

Lenworth:  I absolutely echo those same sentiments. In addition to that are one-on-one meetings as well. The leader sets the tone for an organization, no matter how big or small the group. So it’s important that the leader is comfortable talking about DE&I issues. Let them set an example of being open to hearing about DE&I issues in a group setting, but also having those one-on-ones with each of their employees and digging deeper on making sure they’re comfortable. Have them be well educated on DE&I too, to have their ears tuned for language written down or spoken that may be offensive and to call it out when it happens.

And it’s all about empathy. Just because something doesn’t affect you directly doesn’t mean it may not affect someone else. So it starts from leadership.

Aishwarya: I’d like to bring out this one point about DE&I. When we talk about DE&I, we always think it’s a very HR subject. We think it’s one of the HR initiatives and programs that the company’s HR team particularly takes on. What we need to really, as a group, is always think of it as an all-company thing. It’s not just restricted to one group of people who are trying to do something about it. It has to be something that the entire company or entire org follows. And that is the tectonic shift that can actually lead to a better result. 

Sometimes it’s not easy. It’s really not easy to go and raise your hand, or raise your point, because you are thinking in the back of your head, maybe I am wrong. One of the things that I have found helpful is to have a DE&I committee. Have that one neutral person, or people, who you’re so comfortable with in your company, that you can actually talk to another person in front of them. It sounds very heavy, but it’s actually very easy. If you have a third person to help you moderate that talking, it just helps when you’re so scared and you don’t know what is right or wrong.

What impact has remote working had on DE&I for the tech industry? Has it opened doors for everyone, or only some?

Dessy: I’m a big fan. Going back to the recruiting pipeline, I think previously we were restricted by geographical location. Bay Area, Seattle, New York City, etc. But now people can work at any company from say, a van in Mexico, or rural Wisconsin. It opens up a lot of opportunities for talents that don’t live in a specific region.

The way the technology has developed to support remote work has also been helpful. For example, someone who is disabled may be more comfortable meeting via Zoom rather than face-to-face. So it can open up new channels too for that kind of talent.

Aishwarya: As a new parent, remote work has been a complete blessing. If nothing, remote work has brought us all together. While I was pregnant and when I became a new parent, it was always so much easier because you have to deal with so many things and it just made my life so much more comfortable. It just brought an opportunity for me not having to miss work. 

However, we sometimes tend to forget that remote work is also harsh on certain people. Not everybody’s privileged to have the same kind of setup. There could be challenges of working at home too, which largely gets ignored. So that’s also part of the DE&I.

Coming back to your initial question, has it helped? Yes. Has it helped a lot? I think on some level it ignores people’s situations, and the levels of background activity they may be experiencing. Companies need to cater for people when you are in your home, and they need to invest in making people more comfortable.

Check out: Remote Work as an Opportunity for Diversity in Tech

Anvesh: I agree with all the points being put out, that it has helped make the whole environment more diverse since companies are now able to hire people who are placed in different parts of the world. But on the other hand, if I think about what we were talking about a few minutes back, about being more open and having those one-to-one interactions to maybe discuss our problems in any aspect of DE&I, I think this is something that is somehow missing. Because it’s very difficult for new people to come on board and connect with the team and with the leader as much as we were able to before COVID.

Lenworth: I think that, as was said before, remote work is definitely a blessing. It has validated the hypothesis that you can be as productive, or if not more productive, working remote as well as improve a whole bunch of other different environmental factors. Including quality of life. And it’s definitely opened up the pool for talent, which is important because one of the hurdles of DE&I is just being able to live in the places that these tech companies operate. So with that opening up that improves diversity as well.

But I agree with what you said, and the work that needs to be done now that we’ve proven that hypothesis is how are we going to include everyone to participate in this remote working equally? So it involves some innovation for some traditionally face-to-face or in-person jobs, to make them remote what will require some innovation. So I think we should continue to innovate in that area.

If you enjoyed this conversation with our all-star instructors, keep learning with them by taking a Product Management Certification.

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