A guest post by our mentee Emmi
When I applied for the mentorship program I had recently started as a product manager, a position that was completely new to me. In an environment highly dominated by men, being the youngest in my position and with no strong technical background I felt I needed to gain more specific knowledge, get wider perspectives and get in control. I had no serious hopes of getting a mentor with the same profession as me, so when I was matched with Jennifer, an experienced product manager with an engineering background, I was happily surprised. After our first call I knew this was going to be the start of a great mentorship experience and since then it has only gotten better. Let me explain why, by summarizing five of my most important learnings.
Putting Advice Into Practice
In every meetup with Jennifer we talked about different situations in my daily work life that I found difficult and that I wanted to change and improve. Jennifer, who is a great listener and coach, had hands-on tips and tricks to handle different situations. It was everything from changing my working behaviour to increasing productivity to communicating in a certain way. I quickly realized that I had to actively change my behaviour and force myself to try out every advice. In the beginning it wasn’t easy but the more often I followed Jennifer’s advice, the more natural it became and I was amazed by how well it worked! So whether you’re getting tips from a mentor, blog post or friend, put them into practice to see what can improve your situation.
I’ve always seen myself as a very organized person but after meeting Jennifer I realized there is yet another dimension to productivity. Based on hands-on models on how to make the product manager job more efficient, which Jennifer introduced me to, I changed some of my work procedures to find that I became more productive. One of these models is a structured way to decide on how to improve or implement a feature. The key is to gather and filter ideas in a structured way, to then be able to weigh it against the impact it has on the product and thus the company. When engaging more in these techniques it became much easier to take decisions on what features to build or remove and what solutions to focus on. Solid data and analysis that back up your ideas and feature suggestions will always be superior to ideas that are based on opinions and feelings.
Coming from a non-tech background I felt I needed a deeper technical understanding in order to be able to do an even better job. Reading articles, going to conferences or listening to talks was not satisfying my needs. Encouraged by Jennifer I went to coding-for-newbies meetups to get more insight but most importantly I started to spend much more time with the developers in my team, having them explain and demonstrate the things we were working on and that made the trick! The key here is to find someone with the right knowledge that will take the time to explain and who you can trust with any questions no matter if they’re stupid or strange.
For more great advice on work efficiency see Jennifer’s GGM talk on getting stuff done.
By meeting other women in the mentorship meetups I soon realized that we’re often facing the same kind of problems in daily work situation. Talking about such issues always resulted in finding out that you are not alone but also solutions to the problems. In the course of the mentorship program I’ve discussed and shared many of my learnings with a female colleague at work and we started our own meetup for women in our department. Just coming together and talking we soon identified a lot of common issues but also solutions how to deal with constant interruptions in meetings, idea stealing and “jokes” about female behavior among many things. Most often the best solution to all this subtle behavior is simply to call it out and put it out in the open, which is much easier if you have allies to back you up. A good ally can be any colleague, regardless of gender, the point is to find mutual trust and support in each other.
What goes hand in hand with improving a work situation together as a group is to support and help out one another. A career is never an individual race and you will always be dependent on people. In a new workplace, one way to quickly get to know your colleagues, the culture and to gain respect is to offer help and advice. If you are willing to help your co-workers out you will be perceived as approachable, knowledgeable and trustworthy and most likely people will also return their help and knowledge.
For women in the tech space, or actually any space, it’s important to encourage and sponsor each other to speak up and put your foot down, take that new challenge, to ask for higher salary or to go for that top position. I know way too many female colleagues and friends that don’t dare to take those steps, with low self confidence or that underestimate their talent. To get more women to enter the tech community and to get top positions we therefore need to sponsor and push each other to get where and what we want.
The mentorship program has been a brilliant forum to talk about issues and to boost each other and it is a perfect platform for everyone to take these learnings further and keep sponsoring people in our networks.
Gaining wider perspective
When it comes to the product manager role I have gained tons of new perspectives, mainly due to Jennifer but also through meeting other women in similar positions. It really opened my eyes that there are many different ways to be a great product manager. It also taught me that it’s important to leave the “company bubble” of what is right and wrong and to build a network with a variety of people to gather new ideas. Only with new perspectives it’s possible to develop in your own profession and career. I now encourage my colleagues that are demotivated, get stuck in processes or are on the wrong track whether it’s productivity, leadership skills or something else, to create a network outside the company in order to gain a wider perspective.
In just a couple of months I’ve truly improved as a product manager by getting new perspective and hands-on advice. This due to a fantastic mentor and by meeting all the brilliant women from the Berlin Geekettes mentorship program. That’s why I can only recommend this program to any woman within the tech space that wants to develop professionally.