We are seeing people from all types of work backgrounds and cultures becoming a part of product. It is a critical shift as you build products for an emerging global market. How do PMs empower diversity in thought leadership and product management? PayPal Senior Product Leader Ronke Majekodunmi shares insights about diversity within roles and customer relationships for successful PMs.

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On Diversity of Experience

Ronke shares her path to product management through customer support. Here she shares the importance of talking to the customer support people as they are tapped into the voice of the customer.

“When you are starting at a new organization, the first person you want to go talk to is a tech support person. That is the first person you want to be friends with, that’s the first person you want to buy coffee for, that is the first person you want to say, ‘Hi, nice to meet you.’ 

“Then shadow them, sit with them, hear the calls. Then ask them, hey, help me, what are the top five problems? Help me rank them. Then when you solve that problem with an experience, the first person you show it to is that tech support rep because they will tell you whether or not you got it. … They are the ears and the voice of the customer. They hear everything.

“The other thing I do when I start a new organization other than tech support or customer service, I will find those people sometimes in certain organizations called customer success. They are the first people I meet along with the relationship manager. The relationship manager can tell you whether or not that customer is on the verge of leaving you if one more thing goes wrong, or if they are happy or if they are unhappy. 

“I always tell aspiring PMs and recent college grads this: If a customer is upset, go visit them. When I show up with the relationship manager, because I’m like, Yeah, I’m Ronke. I’m the face of this product, feel free to yell at me, I understand what’s going on. Let me help. Let me help you. And I’ll go with the relationship management team. This used to surprise my colleagues on that side in certain organizations I work for. They’ll say, wait, you actually want to go with me? I’m like, Yeah, I want to go with you there. They respond, ‘but the customer is gonna yell at you.’ I’m like, It’s okay. At least I understand where their pain points are. I always advise people to go. You’re gonna be uncomfortable, it’s okay to be uncomfortable. You grow as an individual as a PM.”

On Empowering Diversity on Teams

Ronke describes how empowering diversity within teams and within customer perspectives can create success of a product, from start to finish. 

“It’s important to have diversity in the room, in your product management team, in your scrum team. The reason is because you’re building products for emerging global folks. For an emerging global demographic, that demographic is ever-changing. Their needs are ever-changing. So how do you do what they want? How can you have empathy if you don’t have people in your organization that look like them and think like them? Look at you and me, Patrick. You and I have diverse geography, diverse background, diverse circumstances. Certain things will impact me a certain way and they won’t impact you that way, while other certain things will impact you a certain way and they won’t impact me that way. If you and I are building a product together, we can take those perspectives and build an awesome product that my community can use and your community can use. So that’s why it’s important.

“If I’m in an organization where there aren’t a lot of diversity, I didn’t feel like I’m gonna give enough opinions and enough perspective, I take my product out on the road, By that I mean, I will take that first wireframe, that first experience, and I would show it to my partners. So I’ve worked in big and small organizations. I will take it out of the park to my security guy at the small organization and say, what do you think of this? I’ll take it and go to customer service, relationship managers, tech support, all diverse. They’re all diverse people coming from different backgrounds who have given me different perspectives. That’s how I do that. In larger organizations obviously I can’t build everything myself, so I just talked to risk compliance, legal, privacy, policy. I look forward to that opportunity. 

“I know some people are like, wait, I have to go talk to all these people? I love that because not only am I going to get diverse thoughts and perspectives but, to give you an example: When I present my organization, I present myself as the three in a box or the triangle: myself, the tech lead, and the designer. I kick off the presentation by talking about the customer value, the business value, and I tie it to the overall mission or vision of our organization, or in some cases, the core values. I pass it on to a designer. He then tells us a story from a persona’s point of view. There’s the before, there’s the after, because we want to transform our leadership and we’re telling that story. Then it will be passed to our tech lead and he’ll talk about what it’s going to take to build it. Sometimes I will bring into that meeting our data scientist. Before that meeting my data scientist and I’ve already met and I’ve got his perspective as to the KPIs that I want to track, but I also will bring that voice into the room as well with our leadership, so that they can see how we’re making decisions and that isn’t just me, Ronke, the PM, sitting here going, this is what we’re gonna do. It’s us as an organization, as a team, having this different perspective, diverse voices. This is what we should do for the customers because we represent them.”

On How to Grow with Diversity Management

Ronke shares ways companies can grow diversity among their employees, by reaching candidates from diverse backgrounds where they are, as they want to see themselves in top roles among organizations.

“It’s important to practice diversity management. What do I mean by that? Diversity management means that for someone like me, I’ll see some people who look like me in our org. It has a psychological impact. This is like the particle effect. If they see people who look like me in leadership, I’m going to want to stay with that company. I’m going to want to get coached by that person to figure out how I can get to where they are and how I’m going to be promoted. But if I don’t see someone that looks like me, I’m going to leave. I’m gonna go find another organization that has it. That’s why I think diversity management is really important, to meet candidates where they are.

“One thing that honestly happens every single day, and I get really impacted by this is, I cannot tell you how many people find me on LinkedIn. They say, Oh my God, someone like you exists in product management. Iit is so good to see someone who looks like you in product management. that gets me and it happens every single day. Last night at 11 p.m., a young woman found me and said, you’re a woman of color and product management. I want to learn so much from you. That should not be a thing. It shouldn’t. The way to not make it a thing is I shouldn’t be excited every time I see an African American get hired by Google, on LinkedIn. The way to do that is diversity management is actually going to meet the candidates where they are, but also looking at our job description. Do we really need an MBA for every PM role? Maybe not, though maybe if it’s on more on the business side. Do we need someone who’s technical? Maybe not. Are you really looking at the job description because what happens is if you say I need an MBA or I need to be technical? There’s a bunch of candidates that will not apply for that role and are coming from marginalized communities.

“Also, go to where they are, going to find them in colleges like Spelman and Morehouse. There’s a program at the University of Washington that I volunteer every Tuesday to help students from marginalized communities get ready for PM interviews. Invest in programs like that. Starbucks does it and so does Amazon but helping with programs like that, for instance, because then you get more diverse candidates. 

“I wanted to give one last example. I don’t know if you saw Business Insider with Salesforce recently. They now have a mandate: Not only must they hire, retain, promote, from marginalized communities, underrepresented communities, but it’s part of the leadership’s KPI, including both their CEOs. Not only hire, but retain, and promote. So that means you’re invested in my success at Salesforce. That means that I know that you’re invested in my success, and I want to do my best at Salesforce to make it, as well. But also, the other thing that Salesforce has is that I think that they’ve been practicing diversity management for quite some time, because recently, there was a LinkedIn video that I saw and I was just so moved. There were a bunch of African American women dancing at an office in Salesforce after a new workshop. All these women of color that you see are either directors or VPs at Salesforce, and I saw myself, and I was just thrilled. I think diversity management is key here.”

About the speaker
Ronke Majekodunmi, MBA PayPal, Senior Product Manager Member
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