Thursday, April 29, 2010

Are we surprised?

It's a story we've heard or read over and over again. Women either can't or don't break that glass ceiling. And if we do, we are grossly underpaid compared to men in equal positions.

Forbes reported that Women account for only 3% of CEO's at the head of the 500 biggest companies, and you guessed it, most are making a fraction of their male counterparts. I've read some of the resulting tweets and comments of women wondering why this is so, and I have to ask: Are we really surprised? Not that it's okay.. but are we really surprised?

I have worked in my industry for almost 10 years now and I have only doubled my starting salary out of college. My husband has increased his times five. This both does, and does not, bother me because of decisions that have been put in front of us in the last 10 years. We reason that my solid job has provided the leeway for him to make risky jumps that have thankfully paid off, but once he's jumped to solid ground, why didn't I do the same? I toss around benefits like, great 401k, a pension and work-life balance, but am I hiding behind those excuses?

I see my brother, who's in finance, on a fast "executive track". I see how early he leaves for work, how late he stays at the office, how often he checks his smart phone and even at home he is working into the wee hours of the night. I personally know how much he discusses work at the dinner table or dominates the conversation during the little time he's off and I know in my heart that I don't want to be consumed like that. My motto has always been, "I work to live, not live to work". There are trade offs.

Does that mean I perform my job at less than 100%? No. Does my attitude ultimately hurt the generation behind me? I say no. If we allow abuse, then it will continue.

Citing an Economist article, Female Power from December 09, There is not all bad news for us gals... "A generation ago working women performed menial jobs and were routinely subjected to casual sexism".  The article goes on to say that for today's standards, women make up 50% of the American workforce and earn 60% of the university degrees (in America and Europe). This is not necessarily silver lining, because we are not there in equal pay yet. Then there is something bigger, more ethereal than money to consider women's professional rank... parenthood.

     "... the biggest reason why women remain frustrated is more profound: many women are forced to choose between motherhood and careers. Childless women in corporate America earn almost as much as men. Mothers with partners earn less and single mothers much less."
This quote particularly impacted me because, as of Friday, I am officially on (my first) maternity leave.  And even though, we want to shout that it shouldn't matter, it does. The fact remains that men cannot have babies. Oh how I've daydreamed this could be true in these past nine months! But it's just not possible and the reality is, parenthood makes a deeper scar on women than men, from our bodies to our careers, but it's one of those scars that you brag about on the playground, or so I've observed.

I am optimistic for wider acceptance and equal pay in the future, especially because of how technology has transformed the way we do our day to day jobs, even for men, but I think women have a chance to benefit the most!

As I wrapped some things up last week at work, a (male) colleague told to me relax and really enjoy parenthood. He said he doesn't regret, not once, leaving work early for any of his son's baseball games. He went on to reason that when we are 90 years old, we are not going to reflect back on our life and say "Gee, I really wish I'd cranked out one more power point presentation".

That said, I can't help but wonder, how will parenthood impact the future of my career? What choices will I face and how will I act on them? Does home working have to necessarily equal less pay... and even if it does, is that okay so that I can find balance my life? As I ask these questions, that so many women are faced with, and statistics show the results of, and again I say, are we really surprised at the answers?

This I'm sure of, we are closing the gap and that's a good thing.
...Read more

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Presentation Overkill

The NY Times recently published an article titled "Powerpoint makes us stupid". It's about the use of power point within the US Miltary and how too much focus on the presentations can distract from the solving the problems at hand. We've all felt this way at some point... "I could be working on something a lot more important if I didn't have to pull together this presentation".

But as product managers, presentations are ingrained in our jobs. Whether it's power point, wikis or white papers we have to convey important messages about our products: Revenue to biz dev, roadmaps to customers, education to sales force and so on. Here are some quick presentation success tips so that you are not wasting your time or that of your audience.

  • Keep it to the point
    Don't put paragraphs in bullets. The bullets are there as a reminder or review of your presentation. They are not meant to be read as a book. If you need to get into that level of detail, consider a technical white paper format instead.

  • Don't over complicate
    Use the "notes" section for extraneous details and resources. If YOU need more than a few words in the bullets to remind yourself, then you probably shouldn't be giving the presentation.

  • Don't re-invent the wheel
    Make a quick stockpile of collateral, a presentation for different audiences that you can refresh on the fly when requested, for example you should be able to easily produce the following presentations on your product
    • Executive Pitch
    • Technical Focus
    • Education (i.e. Sales or End Users)
    • Competitive Comparison

  • Record yourself giving the presentation
    You are your own worst critic. Listen to yourself and ask, "Would I sit through this?" Listen as if you know nothing about the topic and wonder what questions would you ask of this speech

  • Enroll in Toast Masters
    Yes, they are for speeches, but the better you understand an audience and standing in front of one, the better you will be at presentations and how to formulate and focus them

Monday, April 12, 2010

Many Hats...

A lot of times you hear the term “wear many hats” – It may seem very cliché but it IS true for product managers. In fact it is one of the main reasons why I enjoy my job and continue to find it interesting.

Due to the nature of product management and it’s many “hats”, I think, women have somewhat of an advantage in this career position. And No, it’s not because we have an innate fashion sense over men...

I’m talking about the natural rhythm of being a professional woman. Being flexible enough to flow into and out of roles through our entire adulthood and embrace and enjoy all of these roles in our lives – daughter, wife, mother, scholar, athlete, dancer, colleague or friend. All of these pieces make up the whole of who we are. Just like the pieces of a good product manager.

Through natural practice, we have learned life lessons. For example, if you neglect one piece, not only will it suffer but so will you (or your job) because you become angry or fed up with the part that is hogging all your time. Once that happens, you either get bored or hit a plateau forcing you to then divert more energy to the neglected portion. And thus starts a vicious cycle.

We have also learned that each part is never complete – you constantly have to exercise each of your roles in order to grow, succeed and thrive... and the same is true for product management.

Also, from our fluid practice we can easily compartmentalize the different roles and can even enjoy the switching of hats. We know how to “flick the switch” and truly focus your time and energy efficiently - you know that feeling, when you leave some work behind and are more than happy to hang the “professional hat” on the rack and maybe slip into the “athlete hat” at the gym to decompress or the “wife hat” at home to relax and laugh.

Similarly with product management, in the most general sense, you have to compartmentalize. Development does not want to hear about marketing, finance does not want to hear about engineering, etc. But be careful that you do not shut off the valves completely… it is necessary to effectively communicate the pertinent information to each limb for the particular business purpose.

Now for some fashion advice: What are some of the hats that a product manager must wear?

  • Business Hat
    Effectively report on product business value, potential sales channels and pipeline health
  • Technical/Engineering Hat
    Technically communicate with development.
    Clearly define user requirements weighed against business value and time to market.
  • Marketing Hat
    Clearly translate engineering functionality to business value for marketing messages.
  • Finance Hat
    Revenue reporting, new product sales vs support stream revenue and year to year total product revenue growth

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

More Women Embracing Social Networks than men...

Yahoo news article:

The article does not goe into details or suggest what the study means. The study mentions that the number of men in social networks is dropping.

As product managers what conclusion can we draw from this? Based on this trend for men, as early technology adopters, can we use this information to predict future use of social networking and change our tactics to look for the next hot network or media channel or conversely can we predict that in women, having major buying power, we can still rely on the use of social networking for our products in the near future?

One thing is for sure, defining and measuring ROI from social networking is no easy task or formula, but having more information on the users of the medium definitely helps us define our tactics and our message.