Every day, thousands of wonderful women smash glass ceilings, get promotions, lift each other up, and build the products we all know and love. And some of them also find the time in their insanely busy Product Manager days to teach our certifications and speak at our events!
We asked them to tell us about their experiences as Product Leaders, and as women in tech spaces.
Megan Murphy is a Product Leader who has led multi-disciplinary teams in San Francisco, Brazil, China, Spain, and fully distributed environments. With a passion for building vision and narrative, she has managed portfolios of products with millions of MAUs and has launched MVPs at Series-A startups.
Building Products for Learning Disabilities
“In 2015, I worked on my first pro-bono product, creating an iOS app for children with learning disabilities (LD). I worked with Eye to Eye, a New York-based non-profit organization, which has developed an expansive network of mentorship, advocacy, and after-school programs run by and for young people with LD. At the time I worked with them, they operated fully offline through partnerships with over 60 public schools across the United States. While its program had proven successful (measured through improvements in students’ academic performance and their own perceptions of their lives and confidence) in various communities over the 20+ years since its founding, Eye to Eye was limited to helping children with LD only in the communities in which it actively ran a school chapter.
For about one year, I worked with Eye to Eye to help translate its analogue, in-school program into a digital experience that would equip young adults with LD like ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning differences to (1) understand their legal rights to classroom and testing accommodations, through (2) fun, visual gamification elements, in order to ultimately (3) create, export, and share a PDF with their parents and teachers to ensure that the student’s perspective was included during annual academic planning meetings with school administrators.
I’m immensely proud that my team and I were able to contribute to Eye to Eye’s mission through building an app-based experience for children with LD. The app went on to receive positive reviews, a 4-star rating from Common Sense media, and was nominated for a Cannes Lion Innovation Award. The most gratifying part of this experience was feedback from students and parents in the Eye to Eye community that our iOS app captured the spirit of positive LD mentorship and advocacy.”
Creating Space for Women
“I can’t say with certainty that this challenge is unique to women in Product or Tech, but it’s something that I continue to face personally and notice as an observer. If I were passive, I might say “Sometimes we don’t speak up,” but I prefer to own the problem and reframe it in an active way: “Sometimes we don’t take the room to make ourselves and our ideas heard.”
Whether we like it or not, we will sometimes find ourselves in environments in which the loudest voice in the room prevails. Here are two things I do to combat this:
Firstly, I create space. For example, in a tense meeting where a decision needs to be made quickly, I might excuse myself to get a glass of water just so I can take two minutes to reflect and piece together an articulate narrative. This helps me return to the conversation with thoughtful content and succinct delivery.
Secondly, when I notice that others are trying to get a word in but they’re repeatedly denied oxygen, I use non-verbal cues like shifting my body toward that person, inviting eye contact, or explicitly saying “Oh (colleague), what were you about to share?”
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Approaching Inequality Like a Product Manager
“How can women continue to support and uplift eachother in product spaces? I would approach this as a How Might We discovery question.
The first step toward that would be to listen to each other with open minds and ears, and ensure that we understand the problems that each of us face. For example, for years as the only woman on my product teams, I faced different challenges than I do today in a leadership and executive setting.
That said, it’s up to us to all come together and hear each other out. Once we understand each others’ challenges, we can create hypotheses about efforts to resolve them, e.g. through different events, trainings, discussions, retrospectives, etc. In true product fashion, I would work with everyone to prioritize what should be tackled first in order to ultimately bring those changes to life.
In the end, we need to support each other and also hold one another accountable. It might be cathartic to get together over lunch and rant about our issues, but that won’t invoke change – only action will.”
The Most Exciting Thing About Working in Product
“Learning – from customers, teammates, colleagues, and the market – that I just have so much more to learn. Working in product over the years has taught me to continually check myself and my assumptions, and to give others the benefit of the doubt.
Running experiments teaches me never to assume that I know how customers will behave. User interviews continually expose my blindspots. Product excited me because it’s an evolving discipline that favours humility and curiosity – two values I do my best to embody everyday.”
Maureen is a former Head of Product Marketing that worked on Facebook Groups, focusing on Community Leaders and Non-Profits. She previously worked on the Product Marketing team for Photoshop at Adobe and on the product management team that is now Creative Cloud and led the original teams that brought Apple Photos and iCloud to market. An an instructor, Maureen is incredibly popular with her students, who sing her praises long after achieving their certifications.
The Highs of a Product Marketing Career
“I’ve been fortunate to be a part of defining game-changing product strategies for a variety of companies like Apple, Adobe, Cisco and Williams Sonoma. Digital transformation is a continuous process and some of my proudest moments have been coming back to build out product strategy I’d set in motion years earlier.
For example, I worked on digital imaging products at Macromedia prior to it being acquired by Adobe, which included Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Flash. Last year, I returned to Adobe to work on the launch of Photoshop on the iPad. I was also delighted to work at Cisco on the integration of the Ironport and ScanSafe email and web security acquisitions into the larger Cisco, which was the start of Cisco transitioning from a predominantly hardware company to SaaS and software-based models.
I later returned to work directly on the enterprise software strategy, integrating an additional 20 software products into the Cisco ecosystem.
A more recent high point has been teaching product management for Product School. Training and mentoring the next generation of product managers has helped me to refine my own point of view on Product Management.
For example, teaching about creating a culture of innovation reminded me that focusing on core values, mission and strategy at the start of the product development process leads to launching products that users love. I’ve also realized how much I appreciate conducting user research at key stages of the product development process to confirm the product is landing correctly with the target user base.”
Challenges for Women
“The ratio of women to men in product roles is still lower than I’d like to see. As chief customer advocates, product managers represent users in the software development lifecycle and women have earned the empathy and representation that comes from having women represent them. Hiring practices, more flexible working hours for parents, and lack of salary parity are areas that can be improved to make technology a more productive industry for women. “
Overcoming Workplace Bias
“Creating a safe environment in which women can trust each other and encourages open conversations about bias and discrimination is key. I think everyone has some sort of biases and paying attention to one’s language is an important step in understanding and overcoming bias in the workplace. Determining your co-workers pronouns and finding ways to address groups in ways that aren’t gender-specific are steps in the right direction to create psychologically safe spaces.
Another important aspect is mentoring. It’s important for young women to be encouraged in product and more experienced product management professionals can help to contextualize issues women face in corporate environments.”
An Exciting Product Future
“Being at the intersection of business and technology is very exciting. I enjoy solving problems that haven’t been encountered before and working collaboratively to achieve great user experiences.
For those of us who enjoy variation in our work day, the differing roles of a product manager throughout the product lifecycle and the interaction with many teams across the company make product management a fun job to have.”
Nina Foroutan is a stellar instructor and Product School speaker. She started out with a degree in journalism, and moved from the newsroom to the product world. Nina is always hungry to learn more, keen to give back to the community, and always eager to help people follow in her footsteps and break into Product.
Trailblazing the Product Path
“I am most proud of my ability to pivot and adapt to change. I started my career in Journalism and graduated at a time where broadcast news was going digital. It was a confusing and scary time since I was new to the job market and had no sense of what direction to take, so I was forced to get creative.
I was working for a big broadcast news station as an assignment desk editor at the time and decided to go to graduate school and get my MBA focused in entrepreneurial thought and action. I carved a path for myself that didn’t exist at the time. Looking back I think of how brave and fearless I was, even though there were so many unknowns, I was able to drive forward and create a vision that was uniquely mine.”
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What Women Face Today
“Asking for what they want and what they deserve. I myself have a difficult time asking for a raise or advocating for myself to take on a difficult project, or inquire about a promotion at times.
I have found through my experience as a manager, it is more difficult for women to portray their ambition because either they haven’t used that muscle enough in life to be comfortable with it or because they don’t want to come across aggressive or dominant. Luckily, supportive product communities have grown and women can talk candidly together about tips and techniques to navigate through these feelings and situations.”
How to Be a Leader
“When I became a manager I made it one of my priorities to always be an advocate for the woman on my team. The landscape for women in the same field can foster a competitive mentality, even between a manager and her direct reports. I never want my team members to feel this way so I try to foster a culture of open communication, support and trust. I try to show them that I am personally invested in their success.
Often times there is this sense that leaders should never admit they are wrong or show their imperfections. I disagree. Sometimes the most powerful way you can support your team, especially women, is to be an example of learning through mistakes, taking responsibility and holding your head up high and then getting back to the work at hand.“
Writing the Company Story
“For me, the most exciting thing about Product is the opportunity to sit down with every department in the company and talk about what matters to them, what their objectives are in the next quarter, and how we can build and evolve tools and features to support those goals. Product allows you to understand your business in a holistic way. As a Product manager you are part of writing the story of your company and driving innovation while thinking about the big picture.”
Richa Sood has had an incredible career so far, and this star is only going to keep rising! At Shutterfly, where she has been for nearly 5 years, she has launched new verticals, new features, and modernized platforms which support Shutterfly’s $1B consumer businesses.
From Consultant to Director of Product
“I’m most proud of my ability to deliver business value by launching products that leverage a mix of my product and management consulting skills. When I pivoted from Management Consulting to Product Management in 2015, I took a step back in my career to start as a Senior Product Manager. By continuing to focus on end user and business results, I have earned 4 promotions in 4 years.”
Challenges for Product Women in 2020
“I am fortunate to work at Shutterfly that employs ~60% women at Director level & below and is run by a female CEO. However, the demographic makeup significantly changes at VP, C-suite and Board level where female representation is lower. The feedback one gets is “Look at him, he talks like a leader”. The reality is he talks like a white man and that is what leadership skills are perceived as.”
How to Support Eachother
“Invite each other to industry forums (Speakers / Panelist at Product talks, Non-profit Board etc.). Talk openly about compensation and leveling. Always negotiate. Whether you are a Single women, Career moms, and Stay-At-home Mom – respect individual choices and show empathy. Respect the man who is prioritizing his spouse’s career by doing the heavy lifting on child care.“
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The Best Part of Product
“The connection to the customer, understanding customer journeys and creating a product / feature that changes user behavior. I get the biggest adrenalin rush right before a product launch, the camaraderie in the war rooms, the anticipation of how initial couple of hours/ days will perform post launch and getting validation on your hypothesis.”
In her almost 5 years at Amazon, Pooja Ghera has shown her passion for building products that genuinely and fundamentally change our lives for the better. Working on Alexa Smart Home, she worked her way up from Senior Product Manager to Senior Manager of Product Management, building a new and strategically significant business from the ground up.
Making Growth Work for Women
“My education in STEM has given me a solid foundation, the aptitude, and the attitude to take on new challenging product roles in a wide array of domains.
Companies are making concentrated efforts in bringing more women to their workforce. However, getting the right opportunities for continued growth and, getting recognized for their contributions, qualifications, and hardwork could still remain challenging.
See insights from Pooja at #ProductCon Seattle 2019.
It is critical for women to build a strong network where we help and mentor each other and open doors to new opportunities. Sharing your personal/professional stories of both success and failure are also important for other women to learn from, adapt, and apply to their own situations.
In Product, I’m most excited about thinking big about novel, new to the world ideas, and then working on actually converting those ideas into impactful products which positively impacts millions of customers.”
“Take care of your customers or someone else will.” Mala Rajendran‘s philosophy has helped her build an awesome career in Product, with Barnes & Noble, Adobe, Walmart and now Kohl’s on her resume. With 15 years of experience building customer-centric e-commerce products, Mala loves a challenge and spearheading powerful product teams.
Proud to Be a PM
“The achievement I’m most product of in my career so far is working as a senior Product Manager at Walmart and serving millions of customers. Navigating through a huge matrix cross functional organization is a life time experience.”
The Challenges of Product
“Product Management is not standardized and each organization within the same company has different expectation from the product managers. Convincing and satisfying across cross functional organization is a significantly challenging task for a product manager.
But you will never repeat a challenge. Every day there are unexpected surprises. Every day you learn something new.”
We’re celebrating the women who rock the product world! So we picked out a list of women who deserve applause for their contributions to our industry. Check out our Top Women in Product 2020.