The Lessons of Mentoring Young Product Managers
Updated: Apr 23, 2022
All through this important month, we reflect on and commemorate the incredible impact of women.
The self-sacrifice and courage in past generations of women who used their voice to transform lives helped to bring about freedoms to help make the world and our country more inclusive. They fought to have a seat at the table and created opportunities when there were none, so that future generations could move closer to shattering the glass ceiling.
These women provided light in the dark ensuring it continued to burn magnificently, while preparing the way for others such as myself.
If we look around and observe successful individuals - they have a village, a personal board of directors. They all have a trusted group of people who had real constructive impacts in their lives.
This is irrespective of the industry they work in. If these individuals are effective in their endeavours, we must remember they had a community they trusted that they could depend on when making tough decisions, applauding them and paving the way. Their village or personal board of directors are known as mentors.
As product leaders, before we became the beam of excellence in product management today, our accomplishment story was about developing ourselves. Now that we have attained our objective, our success narrative is about paving the path for others and getting the next generation ready, as our advisory board did for us.
The necessity of mentorship
My 8+ years of experience in product management has demonstrated time after time that women in product leadership positions need to make a point of mentoring young women because, more frequently than not, there is no one else that will do it.
Not only does it help the advisee stand out and progress more efficiently and effectively, but if done correctly, it can create the foundation needed for professional networking - thus helping all women across the organization.
Research has also indicated that when mentorship begins earlier, it has profound psychological effects on young girls. They see who and what they can become early on, and they can start to chart their path in shattering the glass ceiling that so many before them have put a dent in.
As an immigrant who moved to the United States at 11, I knew I would end up in the corporate world, thanks to reruns of the TV show The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The main character, Mary, did not just have a job; she had a career.
I got to see her traverse at work, intermingling with her colleagues and advocating for her career progression by asking for pay raises when she deserved them. Her professional career choices had a broad-reaching effect on young girls like myself at that time.
My experience with successful women mentors
I am a successful African American product leader. I am humbled by how far I have gotten in my career. I’m driven, motivated, intelligent, graceful, and I lead with humility. I’m profoundly grateful for my story in all of its messy brilliance. The person I am today evolved throughout the years because of four women who took a chance and mentored me.
I am a product of my village. They have guided and supported me at various stages of my professional and personal life. They all took me under their wing, provided me with truthfulness, robust advice, and support - even when I did not realize I needed it or wanted it.
There are numerous lessons these women have taught me at the beginning of my product career. First, they instilled in me that great product managers build people and products. Second, they helped me understand the value of taking my time to learn product management, such as how to ship or launch products, create opportunities, and even link immediate deliverables to the roadmap.
Most importantly, they taught me the importance of putting the people I work with first, leading my scrum team effectively, collaborating with teammates and other cross-functional team members, influencing without authority, overseeing direct reports, and managing up leadership.
The person I am today evolved throughout the years because of four women who took a chance and mentored me.
Over the years, as I continued to take on more product leadership responsibilities, they have inspired me to look forward and overcome significant personal and professional obstacles.
When certain opportunities have not worked out for me, when I am dealing with personal and professional setbacks or failures, they ask me what is next?
I have learned from these incredible individuals the importance of getting up after disappointments and missteps. Owning my mistakes and, most notably, the importance of not running away from challenges but instead running towards opportunities.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson of all, the impossible may take a long time or cost money, but it is possible - and I am a testament to this life lesson.
As I write this blog, these amazing women are helping me sort out what my next career progression will be. Whatever that next chapter will be, I am so excited to charter this course standing on their shoulders.
Helping the next generation of successful women
I have always known how lucky and blessed I am to have these fantastic women in my life. However, I fully recognized it a couple of years ago when I attended a product management conference. I noticed some young women - recent college graduates - who kept coming to me in my employer‘s booth to ask me about my product management experiences.
These women wanted to know how I came to be this accomplished, poised person standing in front of them. I wish they knew the amount of energy that has been and continues to be invested in me by these countless women who have (and continue to) support and lift me every day.
I am passing on the extraordinary gift these four women have bestowed upon me. I am paying it back by ensuring that I listen and offer assistance and advice to young product managers both inside and outside my organization. In addition, I continue to motivate and provide support for the women I work with inside and outside my department.
I implore anyone reading this blog to do the same if you are not already doing it. Just think of the effect of supporting young girls in grade school, women at the start of their career, or even the women you work with every day. Then, imagine how those actions can lead to more significant statistics of women reaching the C-Suite.
Through the power of mentoring, we can inspire and help get the next generation of leaders ready. Who knows, they might be the ones to shatter the glass ceiling completely.