Being ME at work
I‘ve been a product manager for over 12 years. I love my job and I’ve been fortunate in my career. Sure there were times when I felt I didn’t fit in and I believe unconscious bias is a real problem. But I never felt like I held back. I spoke up in meetings. I negotiated my salaries. I’ve had great relationships with my mentors and engineering partners (mostly men) throughout my career.
10 months ago, I joined a team where 80% of my reporting chain up and down are women and many of the key leaders I partner with including engineering are women. Then I realized I haven’t fully exhaled for 12 years…
Well, everything.. I once got feedback that I needed to work on my “executive presence”. The executive I was given as a great example was a 40 years old man with a military background. I didn’t dwell much on the feedback but these comments lingered in the back of my head and maybe part of me started trying to mimic him in my management and leadership style.
When there are lots of different examples of men and women at the leadership level, we stop identifying with one style, and everyone feels more comfortable being themselves. When we’re more authentic at work and less worried about being judged for being ourselves, we are better at our jobs. As a team, we are more open and active in talking about respect and culture, how to improve these things on our team, and what we want to reward.
Perhaps in the end, the little things matter the most. There are leaders on the team (men and women) who are introverts. They hate public speaking and large meetings. They’re not judged for not being the loudest voice in the room, but the quality of their work. One of my favorite moments was when a quieter engineering manager felt comfortable enough to say: “Hey! I have feedback on this topic, PMs please let me talk.” The best part, the room quieted down and said sorry!
What would I do differently if I got a do over?
I usually write about very intentional choices I’ve made in my career. In this case, I choose my manager and the opportunity but I had no idea the team had so many senior women or how it would impact me. I know I’m very lucky. But experiencing the difference, here are things I would do to do differently on previous teams. Because behavior is modeled and we can make a difference to our team’s culture.
Say thank you more often.
I once heard a senior leader say, don’t say thank you if people for just doing their jobs. I vehemently disagree. It’s amazing how powerful thank you is when it’s sincere and specific. Take the time to say thank you right. Particularly to supporting team who don’t often get the spotlight.
For example: “Great Job” or “+1” is nice.
But specific feedback, e.g.“ Thank you for taking the time to get the details right on x, I know it wasn’t easy and we were under a tight deadline. This made a big different to the customer experience” feels very different.
When you take time to say thank you properly, the team knows you really care and their work matter. It also feels so good that everyone wants to pay it forward.
Be a sponsor.
As a manager, we manage both people and outcome. But which comes first? My advice, shift people into the #1 position and be a real sponsor for the team . Give them room and scope. Give them the right opportunities to shine and credit for their work. Be their coach, mentor, and marketing team all rolled into one. Doing this right is hard work because it’s about matching the right scope and opportunities to the right person. But if we get it right, we will get better outcomes, attract better people, and promote a behavior for other managers to model.
Be intentional about cultural norms you follow.
As human beings, we naturally want to fit in. We’ll adopt the culture norms of the teams we join. I was once on a team where the CEO yelled and banged on the table a lot. My voice got louder and my vocabulary got more colorful when I worked there. But if I had to do it all over again, I would push back and ask: “What’s the point? How does this help us?”
All I really wanted to say is there’s hope.
This wasn’t intentionally a love letter to my team and like any other job somedays it’s just hard. I wanted to say there’s hope and it only takes a few. We cannot solve all our ratio overnight but we can choose the job we take, the teams we work with, and the culture we push for. Know that a diverse leadership team and a great culture makes the hard days easier. (It is also viral, we attract a very diverse pool of candidates because they see the culture we’re building.)
Finally, Happy mother’s day everyone! This is a day that makes me grateful for the first senior woman in my life, my mom. She’s always set a fearless, authentic example for me.
P.S. I am hiring for senior product leaders on my team. Contact me.