Women in Product Management: Gaining Recognition – You Asked, We Answered

This month, we presented a webinar from our Product Management Leadership series – No Bragging Required: How Women in PM Can Get the Recognition They Deserve. You can view the accompanying blog post here. We received so many great questions on the topic and have included answers to the top questions down below. Thank you all for engaging in our webinar!

These questions were answered by Pamela Schure and Linda Thompson.

Q&A

How are behavioral / leadership test assessed differently for women and men?

While leadership studies do not assess women and men differently, the outcomes on how they express leadership in their organizations show tendencies. For example, over a large sample size, women leaders tend to gain the trust and confidence of their teams, are focused on tasks, and promote collaboration and cooperation – among others. While men tend to be transactional, prefer hierarchical structures, and focus on performance. They also use more direct language. I believe that these differences are due to expectations in the workforce as opposed to innate capability. Both Linda and I have experienced negative outcomes when using more direct speech patterns, for example. Take a look at this article, A Review of Workplace Leadership Styles: Men Vs. Women.

In a few situations, I have had managers who did not want me to connect with people on other teams. In one environment, I could not speak on conference calls, I had to pass him my questions and comments on a piece of paper so that he could articulate them on the call. It was impossible to build a reputation under these circumstances. Eventually, I left. What else could I have done?

This question is very difficult to diagnose. When I see this kind of behavior, I first want to make sure it isn’t my communication style. I would ask my manager, a trusted peer and mentor. For those who are new to Product Management, invest in time to lean to speak clearly. Coaches and Toastmasters are good places to start. If I determined that my communication style wasn’t the problem, then I’d approach the manager and ask for a frank conversation as to why this process took place. If they didn’t give me an opportunity to grow or remained unable to share the space with me, then I would be out the door.

Continuing to give the benefit of the doubt, I would want to know if the manager spoke for everyone on the team, or only for you. If the former, it’s still a problem, because no one gets the opportunity and visibility afforded by participating. In that case, I’d see if the manager would be open to allowing others on the team to speak, perhaps rotating responsibility meeting by meeting. If it’s only you who has to pass questions and comments to the manager, then I’d follow Pam’s advice above.

Overall, this is a wasted opportunity for the company. They only have one person who can speak to other departments and then lose your expertise when you go away in frustration. I hope that you were clear in your feedback to the organization when you did leave so that others didn’t have your experience moving forward.

What is the best way to communicate when I need something from another group? How do I follow-up properly to get the information I need, or that I depend on?

I am going to answer this with a western cultural framework. For some cultures, what I am going to describe will be offensive. For most of us, this system works well. First of all, I want clarity at the outset. What is the goal of a meeting or email, for example. Then I want to manage the interaction so that it is focused on the task at hand. Next, I want to put in action items, quality parameters, and due dates so that there is a framework for accountability. And finally, ask this important question: “Do you foresee anything that will prevent you from accomplishing X by date Y?” This will surface anything that they neglected to bring up earlier.

Make sure you request it in writing, or if verbally, follow up with a written request to confirm, and ask them to respond with confirmation of their commitment, or concerns if they can’t commit to what you are asking. Check for understanding. What is required, and by when, should be crystal clear.

And although it’s not a formal part of this sequence, I want the other person to give some indication that they value me. I will share small details of my life or ask about their lives. Creating a bond where someone has a personal connection increases the likelihood of them actually accomplishing the task.

In the event that your ideas are always attributed to someone else during a meeting, is it ever okay to be direct and say, “Actually I said that/offered that suggestion, etc.” Or will that just come across as petty and backfire on you?

The short answer is “yes”. The tricky part is getting the tone right. First of all, be upbeat. Your attitude is that they are being very helpful in helping propagate your idea more widely. Try “I’m so glad that X agrees with me on this being a solution. I think it’s the right way to go”. “Thanks for reinforcing what I said earlier,” or “Thanks for elaborating on my earlier suggestion,” or “I’m glad Sam brought my idea up again, so we can discuss it more fully.” There are lots of ways to remind others that the initial idea came from you. Using humor can deflect from any perceived harshness or pettiness. You may also get stony looks. That’s OK. They won’t do it again or will remember to credit you next time. Especially, if you are generous in your verbal support of other people’s good ideas as well.

I have a manager who does not communicate information. How would you address that?

Contrary to popular belief, managers are fallible and often forget that they should share information. If someone isn’t communicating with you, then periodically check in with them. “I heard you went to the meeting. Is there anything I should know”? If this is an ongoing issue, ask them to make a note somewhere so that when you meet up, they can share anything that needs to be passed along. Let them know that this increases the credibility of the team if you are all well informed. It isn’t quite “How to train your dragon”. It’s more like, “How to train your manager”.

For product managers, should we record and report our impact on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis? What looks appropriate versus desperate/braggy?

I personally use a layered approach. Have a conversation with your manager. Slip in one success story every couple of days – no less than once a week. Have a 1:1 meeting, you definitely want to highlight one accomplishment. In this context, keep it conversational. Departmental meeting? You’re presenting. That’s where you give a couple of examples of work that has been done, the impact, and how it has made your company’s bottom line better.

True story: one CEO had to pass by my desk several times a day. About twice a week, I’d give him a 10 second update so he knew how critical my work was. When it came time for a promotion, it was an easy call for him to make. Again, focus on making it part of your conversation not “OK, here it comes: this is why I’m so great at my job!”

As Pam indicates above, there are many natural opportunities to register your accomplishments and their impact. I would report accomplishments and their impact informally in weekly one-on-ones with my manager, and more formally in writing at the end of every month. A monthly cadence makes it easier to remember than waiting until the end of every quarter. Providing the information in writing is helpful to your manager when he/she has to report on the team’s progress, as well as to both of you when preparing your annual performance review. And it keeps you on track to achieve any KPI’s or MBO’s you may have for the year.

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As Product Managers, we all hope that if we work hard and do a good job, the rewards—recognition, bonuses, promotion—will follow. Sadly, recent studies show women are not achieving the same level of success as men in many fields, including technology, science, academia, and venture capital. Learn how to curb the barriers and implement important strategies to gain recognition from Product Leaders so you can stand out from the crowd.

Your Questions Answered By:

Pam Schure People Skills for Product Owners

Pam Schure
Director of Products and Services

Pamela Schure is the Director of Products and Services with 280 Group. She is a 25-year Product Management, Product Marketing and international business veteran with companies such as Apple, Sun Microsystems and Adaptec. She has worked with many companies, small and large, in diverse industries to determine what the key success factors are. She has deep expertise in how to use Product Management and Product Marketing skills to transform businesses and products.

280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.


Linda Lubin Thompson
Executive Coach and Consultant at L2T Leadership
Linda Lubin Thompson is an Executive Coach and Consultant at L2T Leadership Development. As an executive coach and leadership consultant, Linda draws on more than 20 years of experience as a corporate Vice President and Director of Human Resources responsible for multiple areas of talent management and leadership/organizational development. In her consulting practice, L2T Leadership Development, Linda gives her clients the feedback they need to increase their effectiveness, leverage their strengths, and build self-awareness in how their behavior impacts others. She excels at helping high-potential leaders create new possibilities to achieve breakthroughs—in their goals, relationships, and team dynamics.

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