This week, I was privileged to be a part of the Women in Product conference which opened its doors in San Francisco to 2,000 incredible women leaders in Product. The content resonated on many levels from professional to personal, leaving me inspired and motivated to keep doing what I love, to keep learning and to keep getting better.
Another important takeaway for me was the reminder that we are not alone. Hearing from the speakers, meeting new peers and mentors, I know we are all in this together. There is such strength in connecting and sharing, all of which convinces me more than ever that not only do I want to be me, Sheila Hara, but that I can be me.
Here are some of the talks that I found most inspiring:
I want to be the one in charge!
When keynote speaker Diane Von Furstenberg took the stage, she owned it! She owned the audience, the setting, even the air around her. Her message inspired me to love myself with all my imperfections. To take those imperfections and make them work for me: think of them as an advantage and not a mistake. Our imperfections build character. Diane was funny and charming at the same time. And as a reminder that every single one of us suffers from some flavor of imposter syndrome, she also said that every successful person feels like a loser at least twice a week. But then they move on. I am well on my way to becoming successful. I want to be Diane when I grow up.
I want to be the one to have it all!
“I truly believe that we can have it all, but you have to choose if you want it all at certain times of your career…. One of the things we can do as women is give each other a break and figure out how to support each other. Given all the people we have to serve as women… no one’s path is linear.” – Peggy Alford, Senior VP of Core Markets, PayPal
Peggy’s story resonated deeply with me, with the message that we must build an environment where color, race and gender all fade away, and only humanity remains. Peggy is one of eight adopted children, raised and inspired by her mom, a Ph.D. People would regularly call the house growing up and ask for her dad, assuming he was the doctor. Her mom would get on the phone and say, “I’m the doctor in the house!” One of the important ideas from Peggy is that it’s ok to have different tradeoffs in different phases of life. Maybe sometimes priority goes to career, sometimes to family, sometimes to self. Through all of it, develop healthy non-negotiables which you don’t compromise.
I want to be the one to take a chance!
Elizabeth Ames, CEO of Women in Product, spoke about taking a chance and standing up for yourself. At one point in her career, Elizabeth made a concerted effort to articulate and recognize her own value, empowering her to take a chance and stand up for a promotion. To this day, she is often the only woman on an executive team and sometimes, still the only woman in the room. Why? Sometimes it’s because often, as women, we don’t feel right standing up for or promoting ourselves. Elizabeth inspired me to find my voice and know my value.
I want to be the one to make my own path!
Many women on the stage spoke on the growth path not being linear. Jimena Almendares, VP of Global Expansion at Intuit, spoke about making 1000 goals towards one life vision. She empowered us with tools to help us on the journey towards our vision.
Katherine Kornas, Sr. Director, Growth Product & Marketing at Betterment, inspired me to go from spreadsheet-based boxes with status checks, i.e., project-based Product Management, to question-based Product Management. It’s OK to be brutally honest and to be ok with not knowing the answers. This can lead to more questions, which are a powerful thing. When we think of questions instead of timelines, all options are on the table. As we dig in on the questions, every single answer effectively operates as a bread crumb, providing a look-forward tactic and not a look-back metric.
I want to be the one to write a book that I want to read!
Minda Harts, Founder & CEO of The Memo, and Julie Zhuo, VP of Product Design at Facebook, inspired me to be authentic and true to myself. They are both successful authors in addition to their day jobs, pulling from their personal and professional life experiences. They have both experienced the necessity of having courageous conversations that sometimes feel uncomfortable. To do this, we have to give ourselves the power and strength to have the difficult conversations. We can’t hold back.
Both Minda and Julie have learned that success is not a solo sport, spanning our personal and professional lives. In the professional world, choosing great managers is critical for long term success. It’s important to understand the difference between good and great managers. Great managers can look within and aspire to bring great talent — sometimes smarter than themselves — into the team. In Minda’s words, it’s important to “have an empire state of mind” when imposter syndrome sets in. Become a leader who sets an example for those who come after us.
I want to be the one to be genuine!
Jennifer Tejada, CEO of PagerDuty, Shripriya Mahesh, Partner at Spero Ventures, and Amanda Richardson, EIR at Goodwater Capital, inspired me to be genuine, humble and make the best of the anonymous phases in my life.
Shripriya talked about making the best of “suck”, playing on words to talk and think differently about the lowest point in your life. Out of this lowest point, you can always find something great. Have grit, recognize that down times build character, and look forward to making the best of difficult situations.
Jennifer gave it straight: life is not fair so suck it up. Another great point: you don’t need a title to lead! As Product Managers especially, we often lead by influence. This resonated with me: our actions shout, our words whisper. One of her other important mantras is that you can’t wait to be asked; choose to make it on your own rather than waiting for someone else to design your life. And importantly, success paths are not necessarily linear. We don’t always take the shortest path from A to Z, and that can be a great thing.
I remember being so inspired by Amanda last year at the Breakthrough WIP conference when she was speaking to us in heels and nine months pregnant. This year, she spoke about “Good” and “Bad” Product Managers. A good Product Manager takes full responsibility from beginning to end. It’s not just about translating between internal stakeholders but to be the voice of the customer. It means anticipating problems to avoid the fires that we’re constantly putting out. She gave out report cards to self-evaluate ourselves as Product Managers, for which I am determined to be one of the “good” ones.
I want to be ME!
Through all of the sessions and the amazing women present at the conference, the biggest takeaway is to always remain true to myself. I want to never stop growing up, to never stop learning, to never stop improving and to allow myself to metamorphose into whatever is needed of me in that phase of life, that situation. I want to determine my own future, to surround myself with people who support me, and be the best possible version of Sheila Hara that I can be.