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Fewer Sororities, More Girls Who Code Clubs: A Call for Female and Minority Representation in Product Management

Written by
Gan Zhang Gan Zhang
Product Manager @ A.P. Moller - Maersk
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While scrolling down my Linkedin feed a few days ago, a post from Reshma Saujani enraged me; her book series, Girls Who Code, was reportedly banned in the Central York school district in Pennsylvania, resulting from the effort of a right-wing advocacy group called Moms for Liberty. My heart sank as I realized that access to information and role models have been taken away from these teenage girls in Pennsylvania. In response to the current event, this article will examine the cultural and societal barriers that limited female and minority representations in the product management community.

What is Girls Who Code about?

The book series is a product of the Girls Who Code organization, a non-profit dedicated to young women’s access to STEM education. The book series is an illustration of the technical and creative journey of the girls who code. On the other hand, by leveraging the book series, boot camps, and coding clubs, the organization aims to close the gender gap in the tech industry, which is still vast, and even getting worse. In 1995, 37% of the employees in computer science were women; today, it’s only 22%.

How is coding relevant to product management?‍

As the commercial counterparts of software engineers, product managers typically also share some technical background. Some product managers are more technical than others, contingent on the nature of the product. However, product management roles have a fundamental emphasis on user experience and commercial value. Therefore, theoretically, the field of product management should embrace people from all walks of lives, as we live in a time when the products we use as consumers or commercial entities are getting more and more personalized. Hence, product managers, who conceptualize and lead product development, should also represent the targeted users, as product managers are supposed to be the voice of the customers. With that being said, a technical background is still advantageous for a product manager’s career growth and performance. The technical expertise could contribute to successful communication with engineers and decision-making in regards to technical debt and infrastructure, which have a direct impact on the scalability as well as user experience. A wonderful product idea without a great technical solution can still fail, imagining an app with a dozen successful features but taking forever to load any of them. Good product managers are able to identify technical constraints, prioritize features, and drive towards their long-term vision while influencing technical decisions.

Moreover, product managers with a technical background tend to earn a higher salary. Per Comparably, the average salary of technical product managers is $152k per annum in the US, 28% higher than that of generic product managers. It is safe to say that the product management job markets value and compete for talents with programming and coding literacy.

In what ways does our culture and society hurt the diversity in product and tech?

While discussing the lack of diversity in product and tech, it is convenient to attribute the problem to the talent pipeline resulted by uneven distribution of STEM education resources. However, research suggests that misconceptions in our culture are also blockers. This section will examine the problems on both ends.

Our culture has led to the loss of diverse talents before considering a career path in tech. Studies and research have revealed some of the common misconceptions that have kept women and minorities away from fields of studies that pave the way to a tech career.

Misconception 1: Tech is all about coding.

Sheekha Singh surveyed females on their thoughts about the discipline, and found the most common barrier was the misconception that a technology career requires a computer science degree or equivalent training. This article aims to break barriers into the product management space, so I won’t go into other non-coding tech roles, such as UX designers, account managers, product analysts and so on.

As discussed above, though coding is helpful in navigating a product management career, it is not a necessity to enter. Moreover, coding is definitely learnable, and that leads to the second misconception.

Misconception 2: STEM fields are masculine so girls are naturally disadvantageous in STEM fields.

According to research by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), STEM fields are often viewed as masculine, and teachers and parents often underestimate girls’ math abilities starting as early as preschool. Unfortunately, this view is also commonly held against people of color, excluding Asian Americans.

AAUW also suggests that teachers, who are predominantly women, often have math anxiety they pass onto girls, and they often grade girls harder for the same work, and assume girls need to work harder to achieve the same level as boys.

Challenge in Funding and Resource Allocation to STEM Education

As previously mentioned, the failure with talent pipelines resulting from education resources is the common scapegoat. In recent years, lawmakers in the US have introduced bills to address the lack of diversity in the tech industry, a significant sector in its GDP (~10%). In June 2021, Mazie K. Hirono, an Asian American Senator from Hawaii sponsored Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act of 2021; In February 2022, another bill called Strengthening STEM Ecosystems Act was read twice in the senate. Both bills aim to secure a budget for boosting inclusive STEM learning experiences and opportunities spanning all education stages and career pathways. While these initiatives are well-intentioned, both of them have yet to be passed and no funding has been allocated. Grantedly, this is not a pressing issue for the general public, compared to other political hot buttons. On the other hand, the bills are not sufficiently actionable so even if more funding has been secured, it is unclear whether we can see measurable and justifiable improvement.

Silver lining in the private sector

Real change needs to happen in both public and private sectors, which brings us back to Girls Who Code. Organizations like this have experience and proven track record of success in changing the landscape. Girls Who Code partnered with global superstar, Doja Cat, released DojaCode, an interactive coding experience for the rapper’s music video and hit single Woman. Innovative approaches like this from the private sector can break misconceptions and inspire women and minorities who may be unaware of the career opportunities in tech, just how creative and fun it can be. Therefore, as private citizens and minority members in the tech community, we are obligated to go beyond our tech community and bring tech to the next generations through defying misconceptions and challenging status-quo.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gan Zhang

Gan Zhang
Product Manager @ A.P. Moller - Maersk

Gan is a seasoned product manager specializing in AI/ML, data platform, and fintech products, with a successful background in leading Fortune 500 companies.

Currently, Gan drives product pricing and growth in the inland shipping sector at Maersk. Prior to this, he held a senior product manager position at Trip.com Group, where he led data platform, machine learning solutions, and FX hedging development for Travix, a Trip.com subsidiary.

Additionally, he is an accomplished speaker and content creator within the product management domain. For keynote speeches or further discussions

The AI Summit 2023: an interview with Gan Zhang

https://www.fmai-hub.com/the-a...

KPIs to successfully measure AI with Gan Zhang

https://www.appliedintelligenc...

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