Product Teams Marty Cagan

Women in Product

Note 1: I’m focusing in this article on women, however, my points here are intended to apply to all under-represented groups.

Note 2: I am highlighting here the product role, which is a subset of the “women in tech” topic.  I would also love to see more women in engineering and design roles, but I am especially focused on the product role because it’s such a strong path to CEO and GM roles.

I still remember the first time I personally witnessed gender-based discrimination in the tech workplace.

I was a young engineering manager at HP, and during one of the quarterly meetings where we’d stack rank everyone across the different parts of the organization, there was a discussion comparing the performance of two people, one male and one female.  One of the senior managers made the argument that the male should get ranked higher because he had a family to support, the implication being that the female he was being compared to did not.  I remember thinking that even if this was something that should be considered, she could very possibly be a single head of household, so that didn’t make much sense to me.  But I didn’t know either person being considered, and I was new to this whole management thing, so regrettably I didn’t say anything.

Today I rarely see such overt discrimination, at least when it comes to sexism.  It still exists; it’s just more subtle, and I’ve come to believe that much of it today is not intentional.  But even though active discrimination may be less prevalent, the legacy it has created persists.

It hit me recently that it’s one thing to not be a sexist or racist, but it’s another thing to be actively anti-sexist or anti-racist.

While I like to believe I’m not a sexist or racist, at least not intentionally or consciously, what have I really done to actively combat sexism or racism?

It’s one thing to not intentionally discriminate against women, and it’s another to actively work to reverse the legacy of that discrimination.

I was inspired recently by my friends that put on the Craft Conference in Budapest.  I consider this one of the best new conferences for software engineers, and last year they had a very visible policy of non-discrimination, but this year they went further and offered “diversity scholarships” to try to actively increase the representation from under-represented groups.

To me, that’s an example of not just having a policy against discrimination, but proactively working for meaningful change.

There are many things I think we can all to do to actively work to correct these imbalances and inequities.  Here are some examples:

– When you recruit, don’t just prioritize resumes of under-represented groups, but go out and figure out how to increase the pool entering your funnel.

– Make sure every member of your team is able to contribute from a safe place.  If you don’t know what I mean by this, check out the recent article describing how significant this factor is.

– If you see harassment or discrimination taking place, call it out – it diminishes us all.

For myself, going forward, I’m committing to doing more than just not discriminating:

– I have already begun to actively work to change the image people have in their mind when they picture a strong, smart, hard-working product manager.

– I’m now offering several scholarship spots in my public workshops to try to remove the financial barriers for women and other under-represented groups.

– Finally, as I encounter these smart and ambitious people, I am going to try to personally make sure they get placed in a good product company working under a proven product leader that can help them reach their potential.

And I’ll continue to seek out other ways I can use my platform in the technology community to help.