Start with what you value
Blair has nearly a decade of direct Product Management experience in varying industries, including medical devices, animal health, and luxury kitchen faucets. After six years in the Product Management field, and in addition to her day job, Blair started teaching new and aspiring Product Managers at General Assembly. Today, in addition to teaching, Blair owns her own company helping new and aspiring Product Managers break into the field.
How did you become a leader in the tech industry?
I’ve been fortunate to learn from amazing counterparts and work in a variety of different industries which has allowed me to adapt to varying styles of Product Management. From managing mature products to teaching Fortune 50 companies on the best practices of Product Management; a decade in Product has allowed me to grow tremendously.
There is an adage that connect one’s true understanding of a discipline with their ability to effectively teach it. I suppose the start of my career as Product Management Instructor with General Assembly made me feel like a leader in the industry as it tested my mettle and allowed me to continue learning simultaneously.
What does diversity and inclusion in the tech sector mean?
I don’t have a perfectly prepared, bow-wrapped answer to that. But what I can describe though, being a product manager for ten years, in five different organizations, I was the only black product manager anywhere, except for once, and I hired that person. I have recently been made aware of a “black women in product management” slack channel that I am now a part of, which helped me find additional cultural affinity groups to better serve my diverse clientele.
I wish that it was normal to see a force of talented people that are representative of what our communities look like, and what the users of the products [we manage] look like. It is a misnomer that there are not an abundance of black women who work in tech. My slack group proves otherwise, my clients prove otherwise.
What are the attributes and successes of a diverse and inclusive tech company?
I’m really impressed with the moves that a company like General Assembly are making. It is one of the only organizations that I’ve worked with over the last three years that cared about personal pronouns. It is a part of their fabric, it’s not a letter that they put out in June and then move on with life.
I think it is difficult when you have a long-established company where it wasn’t necessary, or deemed necessary, to change. You are really changing a culture. When you are starting from the beginning, developing a culture from scratch can be less challenging when compared to managing culture change in an existing organisation.
What unique strengths and perspectives do black women and women of color bring to the tech field?
As a woman of colour, I have the ability to help create products that are inclusive of my community based on experience, not assumption. I have the ability to consider different use cases and affect the reach and profitability of a product due to the slightly different perspectives or exposure that my counterparts may not have. It doesn’t make me better than someone else but there is value in including a divergent experience.
For instance, I recall a time during a previous Product Management role, we were developing new collateral and our product photography needed a refresh. I noticed that we did not include any Black or even racially ambiguous models. Our product photography was only refreshed every three to five years so it was important that we had a diverse selection so that the images would be relevant for the brand for a while. I received push back. One of my teammates remarked that we “don’t need Black models because Black people don’t buy our products”. The data clearly indicated otherwise. Black people purchased the product for many years and it is incredibly important to show representation and inclusion, even in small ways. The mindset and the audacity to push back without supporting data was striking and made a lasting impact.
In what ways can the tech sector more effectively recruit black women and other women of color to the tech sector?
I believe being intentional about recruiting outside your comfort zone. For instance, I am a graduate of a HBCU (Historically Black College or University), and there is a huge audience of women who attend HBCUs. Visit and develop relationships with HBCUs and their student body and intentionally discover talent there.
In what ways can the tech sector more effectively retain black women and other women of color to the tech sector?
Be genuine and intentional about creating a culture that invites every team member to feel a part of the proverbial family. Much in the same way as Product Managers create products, tech companies should communicate with their teams to better understand their goals, motivations and frustrations in order to create an environment where all team members are able to thrive. Create an environment that is psychologically safe so that the conversation can be an honest one. Acknowledge the work and the talents of women; pay equally and reject the mindset that somehow “her talent is less than that of a male”. Shun microaggressions. Reward positive behaviour. Maintain an effort to positively improve. Many of us aren’t looking for perfection; many of us are pleased with real action that’s headed in the right direction.
What feedback would you give to your first boss in the tech industry?
Even a decade later, Jeff is still one of the best managers I’ve ever had. He took a chance on me because he saw potential. He was a hands on trainer without coddling me. Thank you for valuing my background, talent and creating space for honest dialogue both personally and professionally.
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