Why women make great product managers

Marty Cagan, founder of the Silicon Valley Product Group, delivered the opening keynote to the 2016 Mind the Product Conference. His keynote, “Behind Every Great Product,” highlights professionals involved in some of the most iconic technology products of our time, including Netflix, iTunes and Word for Mac. All six of the examples he uses are women in product management.

The skills that make women succeed in product management:

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Problem Solving
  • Compassion
  • Collaboration
skills that make women great product managers


Studies show that women professionals in various fields excel when it comes to a handful of skills that make a great product manager. The number of women in a group predicts effective problem solving abilities of the group as a whole, according to MIT, CMU and Union College research. The same study notes that having more women in a group contributes to higher levels of social sensitivity, which increases collective intelligence. Catalyst Reports brings this finding to a corporate context — companies with more women in leadership positions show increased Corporate Social Responsibility.

“Good product people marry business models with creative methods of solving problems in a sustainable way.”

Irina Farooq, VP of Product at Kinetica

Irina Farooq was an engineer until her inquisitive nature drove a career shift to Product Management. “I would ask people what we were working on and why we were doing something and could never find a satisfactory answer,” she said of her time as an engineer in an interview with Advancing Women in Product. She adds, “I lead product not by focusing on checking feature boxes but from understanding who the customer is, both the buyer and the user.”

A product manager needs to be able to gracefully maneuver contentions – whether differing departments, ideas or priorities – in order to reach an end goal. Studies suggest that women excel in professional roles that involve working with others. For example, Quorum data analysis shows that female Senators are more likely to engage in collaborative work than their male colleagues, especially when it comes to crossing party lines.

A voice that needs to be heard

When Carol E. Reilly, cofounder of Drive.ai, developed a voice-activated human-robot interface using Microsoft speech recognition API, she was frustrated to find that her own design wouldn’t respond to her voice. She told Tech Crunch, “although I had built the interface, a male graduate always had to lead the demonstration when we showed the system. The speech system recognized male voices but not mine.” The API, built by 20-30-year-old men, had difficulty registering female voices.

While the numbers are changing, product management remains a male dominated field. The 2017 Pragmatic Marketing industry survey reports that 61 percent of product managers are male, and male professionals make an average of $11,000 more than females in the field.

However, female product leaders are trying to solve this problem. Fiji Simo, Facebook VP of Video, told Glassdoor, “it is important that diverse voices are leading the way in building the next generation of products for the world.” Fiji Simo and Facebook colleague Deborah Liu founded the organization, Women in Product with this goal. The organization provides resources for women in the field, including an “Ask Women in Product” Forum and a yearly conference, which was themed “Breakthrough” and attended by 1,700 people. “We want women product managers to be able to see themselves as leaders and to breakthrough imposter syndrome and stereotypes. So often they feel the weight of being a woman in a male-dominated field.”

Being women in product

What does the future of product management look like? An industry where women professionals are a given, rather than a goal. Until then, organizations – like Women in Product – provide women product management professionals with channels for support regardless of the gender breakdown in a current place of work. These role models, groups and forums offer answers to the question of why women should go into product management.

“We change the perception of – and thus the percentage of – women in technology by being women in technology, by being awesome and showing that to the world.”

Jobina Hardy, Senior Product Manager at Tes Global

Hiring more women positively impacts the world of product. The 2013 Catalyst Report, Why Diversity Matters, highlights that in studying 15 years of data on the management teams of S&P 1500 firms, researchers found that more women in top management improved performance of firms that were heavily focused on innovation.

Women professionals bring unique perspectives that help us create the products of the future. By showcasing the women who break glass ceilings, overcome gender stereotypes and make their mark on the field, we show young women that they have the skills it takes to become a product manager.

For more information visit ms-product-management.cmu.edu