Here Are The Things You Can Do As A Product Manager To Create An Inclusive Environment
Creating a fully diverse and inclusive environment for your employees and clients is still an ongoing challenge for many companies. This struggle for complete diversity is unfortunate because diversity, inclusion and success all go hand in hand! Without a diverse team and an inclusive, safe space, success will be much harder to achieve (in all aspects). As business leaders and product managers, we can contribute to minimizing this issue with simple and easy changes to our management style. When we bring more diversity and inclusion to the company, we are ultimately increasing our chances at creating diverse and inclusive products and increasing our potential success!
The first step to creating that ideal, diverse and inclusive product is to create a diverse and inclusive environment! The month of May is all about bringing awareness to the constant struggle of creating a fully diversified and inclusive world with people of ALL cultures, races, gender, age, sexual orientations, and wealth. May 21st is recognized as World Diversity Day by the United Nations. We’d like to contribute to this conversation by sharing some tips on how product managers can alter their management style to encourage a more diverse and inclusive environment for their team and clients. Now, let’s dive right into this topic!
Most product managers are guilty of biased management; try to avoid this!
Everyone has biases; we are all born with our own opinions and values, stemming from our environment, culture and family. It’s important, however, to understand that, although we can’t stop ourselves from having biases, we can control how we act! We can be aware of our biases, understand we have them and reflect on how to act unbiasedly as possible.
Here are some tips to avoid being a biased product manager. We like to call them "The ABC’s To Preventing Biased Management" because it’s as easy as citing the alphabet!
Awareness & Acknowledgment
- Recognizing that everyone has biases is the first step to creating a diversified and inclusive workplace. We are all born with underlying biases, whether we like it or not. Being aware of these biases and trying to actively overcome them is the key to being a successful product manager.
- Once you are aware you have underlying biases, you can stop yourself from making a biased decision, either about the way you manage your team, select your team, or make decisions about the product.
Building Bias Checks
- Build bias checks into your product process to ensure your product isn’t biased. This may include asking clarifying questions during brainstorming and planning sessions.
- You could assign someone on your team as the ‘devil’s advocate’ to always question you in order to catch underlying biases you might have missed. Another way is to assign multiple team members to think of questions that might have been missed about the product. This is important for solving any potential problems now instead of waiting for the consumer to ask those questions.
- The main goal is to try to stop the problem from happening before the product is released!
Calling Out & Exposure
- Call out someone’s biases when you see them. Don’t be afraid to expose key team members for things they need to be exposed for.
- If every team member is aware of their own biases, the fight for complete diversity and inclusion will be easier!
Next, here are 7 things you can do to create an inclusive environment as a product manager:
- Get to know your team
Getting to know who your team is and where they come from allows you to connect with them and understand their values, learning styles, personality types and anything else that can help you include them with the team.
- Have an open mind
Each work-related meeting should always begin with an earnest, genuine "How are you?" or a similar and appropriate introduction. It's important to remember that everyone is facing a battle that you know nothing about.
Make sure to always have an open mind. When being on a diverse team, and growing up in a biased society, you might learn about different cultures and people that you have not been familiar with before. Keeping an open mind allows you to be inclusive of their differences and make them feel comfortable.
- Ask for feedback and criticism on how to improve
It's important to regularly ask for feedback on ways you can improve. Taking constructive criticism from your team is important because they can sometimes see flaws that you can’t! The inclusive environment is for them to feel comfortable, so it’s only right to allow them to express HOW you can do that for them
As we said, the most important characteristic of any thriving product manager is open-mindedness. For the ultimate success of any team, the leader must ignore their ego. No one person is any more valuable when it comes to the exchange of ideas. When each person is given the opportunity to be heard, trust is instilled. When trust is earned, a culture of respect and success follows.
- Support and celebrate your team’s diversity
Understand that, with a diverse team, most team members will have a diverse background and culture. Support their differences and celebrate them! Allow and encourage them to not be afraid to express their traditions in the workplace and respect their religious/cultural holidays (if they have any).
- Always communicate inclusivity with your team
Make it known to everyone that this is an inclusive environment. Spread it on social media, include it in the orientation of a new team member.
Always remind everyone that this is an inclusive space, and if they don’t feel like it is, to speak up so you can change some things to make it so!
- Rethink your meeting strategy
Be aware that everyone has different personality types and learning styles. Make sure to not exclude those who may be introverts or those who may have a mental illness, such as anxiety or fear of public speaking. We all learn in different ways.
Instead, rethink your meeting strategy. Maybe, instead of having one large group having a discussion, break up the team into smaller groups and have them brainstorm a topic/problem.
Another idea is to create a structured plan for the meeting and send it out to the team before the meeting. This way, people can prepare their ideas for the meeting beforehand. This allows everyone a chance to express their thoughts.
- Lead by example
Lastly, lead by example! A true leader leads by showing the way, not telling the way. Make sure to always show inclusivity through your ACTIONS. If you show how to create an inclusive environment, you can inspire others to do the same!
Remember, product managers must be the communication glue!
Once you’ve learned to be an unbiased manager, and have learned how to make the workplace more inclusive, you must learn to be the glue that sticks all the pieces of the company together!
As a product manager, you get huge value from being empathetic. Staying up-to-date, informed, and triangulating organizational concerns increases your credibility. Don’t keep your knowledge under wraps. Executive, engineering, sales, marketing, and support teams will state any problems. It requires exceptional effort to ensure clear, unambiguous communication across all departments.
Be that glue! Let everyone generate ideas, and then get out of the way of stakeholders who may or may not see eye to eye. Positioning yourself to appeal to or appease various standpoints isn’t the end goal — it’s a step in the process.
If someone doesn’t feel comfortable speaking their mind in a work meeting because the management appears uninterested in their opinion, then they cannot fully be the devil's advocate for a bad decision.
And, make sure to use asynchronous exploration; ask for individual input before the group discussion starts. If you want to make a good decision, you need to identify those who are both well informed and have a completely different opinion than yours (or that of the group consensus).
Then, once the roadmap meeting starts, the product manager can quickly move through the consensus and spend most of the time talking about the differences, which is where the good stuff comes up.
Work on people, then the product!
The foundation of any successful team is their leader. Much like a head coach in professional sports, the product manager is the leader of the team. They establish trust and create a culture of open-mindedness. They determine the vision and build a roadmap that will lead their team on a path to achieving goals. Product managers can accelerate a company’s growth and make the next financial milestone.
No product manager work happens in a vacuum, which is why we must learn to influence, not direct. We must remain aware of company culture, diversity and biases while managing the product system to build social capital. Earned social capital allows us to influence the success of product roadmaps.
Even though more and more companies are getting comfortable with remote work, the field of product management still seems to push back against this trend quite forcefully. There is a general sense that product managers can’t do the things they need to do unless they are physically located with their teams.
We believe the product management role is harder to work remotely in than some other roles, like customer success or development. However, given the growing diversity of teams, companies striving to create inclusive workplaces, and the increase in designing well-rounded, unbiased products for all groups of people, we can continue to contribute to breaking the stereotypes!
Finally, remember in-person time is crucial!
This gives you an opportunity to meet everyone in person, work together, and most importantly, have meals together. Once you’ve eaten a meal with someone, they’re not anonymous anymore. This means that when conflict arises (and of course it will), you’re way more likely to work through it kindly and respectfully. But the biggest value is the lunches, the coffee chats, and the after-work catch-ups. That’s where we begin to see each other as whole people, and it’s at the core of our ability to work together and grow together.
You need in-person time in order to sustain the human relationships that will enable you to get more work done. The pandemic has truly made it hard to have in-person time with clients. As such, our company has gone completely remote to be as safe as possible. However, at Bain Public, we strive to put product managers onsite and we privilege on-site presence with clients. We hope to get back to in-person meeting as soon as it is safe to do so! We believe it’s crucial to sustain the human relationships that will enable you to get more work done.
To end this article, we’d like to share an important quote from Martin Luther King, Jr:
"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr
Just as an individual cannot start living until he breaks free from the societal straps that hold him down, we as product managers cannot have complete success until we create a fully diverse and inclusive environment. Only then, can we rise up and succeed in progressing towards a better world!
Written and researched by Jessica Scandaliato. Thanks to Nina Mourtada for contributing research to this article, as well as Paul Ortchanian for reading drafts and overseeing aspects of its publication. Also, if you have any feedback or criticism about this article, feel free to shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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