Diversity and Inclusion: Are You Sabotaging Your Product’s Success?
“Diversity and Inclusion” are some of the hottest topics in the Tech industry. Unfortunately, there is not much discussion surrounding the even more severe lack of diversity in the product management function, particularly in the representation of Black Product Managers. The lack of Black Product Managers is not just a pipeline issue. It is due to the discriminatory gatekeeping in the interview process and the lack of career advancement for Black PMs who do get through the door. By sharing my story, I hope to shed some light on this problem, offer some solutions, and emphasize why it is necessary to take action now so that you can avoid hindering your product (and team) success.
Lack of Inclusion in the Product Management Profession
Product Managers advocate for the customer or user of the product they manage. But in an evermore competitive landscape, how can they better understand their customers and find new markets that want their products? Mina Radhakrishnan, co-founder of Different, and 1st Head of Product at Uber put it this way in a recent Mixpanel article:
“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.”
Bringing in more Black and other minority professionals to the product management team is a key tool here that is often overlooked, or worse yet, actively ignored by seen and unseen discriminatory practices.
Pathways into Product
Some of these practices occur because the pathway into product management is so ill-defined. The journeys into product management can be summarized into four main paths:
- Entry-level Product Manager programs
- Former Tech founders transitioning into Product
- Transitioning internally from a similar or adjacent role (e.g. software engineering, product design, scrum master, etc)
- Someone taking a chance hiring you as a new Product Manager
I took path #4 in my journey into product management. My background in consulting and having an MBA helped me land my first Product Manager role at Hana, a start-up, co-working brand and subsidiary of CBRE. I joined the company before they opened their first location and managed the platform used to run the core operations and member experience of the co-working space. Diving into product management at a small company, joining right before its launch and staying through its first year of new openings, was the perfect crash course in my PM development.
With my experience at the start-up, I started searching for roles with a more established Product team. As someone who actually had PM and consulting experience, along with my academic background, I started to notice and experience the inherent inequities that make breaking into (and growing a career in) Product harder.
- First, the case-based interview process dictated by three main PM interview books: Cracking the PM Interview, The Product Manager Interview, and Decode and Conquer. Used by top Tech firms and adopted by many start-ups, the process self-selects candidates who have resources to invest in preparing for the interviews – sometimes paying upwards of $2500 for interview prep coaches.
- Second, there’s a long-held belief that the product management role requires having a technical background. While there are some fields where having this background can help, any excellent Product Manager must have the skill to learn — learn about a market, a product, and most importantly a customer’s needs. That’s the skill that should be sought after. The focus on a technical background disparately excludes individuals who are part of identity groups that are systemically-underrepresented in software engineering and other technical roles.
- Third, the lack of a clear path into Product allows gatekeepers (in the form of recruiters, hiring managers, and interviewers) to find a multitude of “reasons” for a candidate they unconsciously, or consciously, are biased against hiring.
These inequities particularly affect Black women and femmes who exist at the intersection of a gender identity that is actively discouraged from pursuing technical fields, and a racial identity that is regularly subjected to discrimination. Living in this intersectionality has further limited access to resources and networks that could help them break into Product.
Black Women in Product
In May 2020, I founded Black Women in Product (BWIP) in an effort to find more Black women and femmes who currently work, or who want to work, in a Product-related role. Since its founding, BWIP has grown to over 300 members from around the world in roles ranging from entry to executive-level at a variety of start-ups to Fortune 500 companies.
What we do
Our community works to connect members to companies that are intentional about hiring diverse talent, giving a boost to members looking for that first entry-level role. We offer resume review, coaches, and a buddy system for members preparing for interviews. We are a resource for career development for those seeking to advance in their Product careers or network with other Black Product professionals. Most importantly, we provide a safe space for members to share and feel validated in the unique experiences they encounter as Black women or femmes in the workplace.
How Can You Address the Diversity Problem in Product?
Break Barriers of Entry
Product hiring managers must make commitments to #HIREBLACK and hire Black talent who possess perspectives that embody marginalization due to socioeconomic status, gender, nationality, disability, and other identities. The commitment requires reforming the way Product job descriptions are written, and not discouraging applicants from applying with unreasonable required years or areas of experience. It includes being transparent about the interview process and providing preparation resources to give each applicant a fair chance at showcasing their capabilities. Most importantly, it also requires auditing resume review and interviewing processes to uncover conscious and unconscious biases that most heavily impact Black applicants.
Inclusivity by Design
To design great products, we focus on the most underserved along with the most satisfied. Although it is true that diversity is not just about race or gender, when thinking about broadening user perspectives, the most marginalized communities – who face systems of oppression that are intertwined with race and gender – must be amplified in the design process.
Just hiring diverse talent is not enough to incorporate inclusivity in the design process. Individuals need to feel included and safe enough to contribute their perspective. The inclusivity must trickle down from Product leadership with visible commitment, self-awareness of bias and cultural intelligence, and promotion of effective collaboration (HBR, The Key to Inclusive Leadership). Only then can the design processes for products also be disrupted to equally include the perspectives of diverse talent who advocate for the most marginalized customer/user.
Working to increase diversity and inclusion in the Product Management profession is not only the right thing to do, it will help companies design, develop, and deliver ever more exciting and valuable products — products that are valuable to many more people.
For more information on Black Women in Product, email Ngozi Ofoche at BlackWomeninProduct@gmail.com, or visit https://www.blackwomeninproduct.com/signup.
About the Author
Ngozi Ofoche is a Privacy Product Manager at Capital One.
Ngozi Ofoche is a privacy product manager at Capital One, lawyer, entrepreneur, and founder of Black Women in Product, an intentional safe space for Black Women and femmes who work, or are interested in working, in a Product-related role. As an advocate for responsible technology, she transitioned from law to Product to get technologists to think more broadly about the social impact of their innovation. Her current mission is to break down systemic barriers into Product for Black women and other minoritized individuals.