Product management is like SoHo House. Even if you know about it, good luck getting in.— Unknown
All PMs I know come from privileged backgrounds. They all have had middle class or better backgrounds, had someone in their family who was in STEM (likely their parents), and are generally from the coasts. They are likely to have attended an elite institution, and tend to have strong, powerful networks, which gets them exposed to PM pretty early. In many ways, it is similar to investment banking.
Growing up, I did not know about either PM or investment banking. When I began to study electrical engineering at my state’s university, I was not informed of product management as a potential career. It was only when I moved to NYC, roughly a year after graduating, that I began to hear about fields like investment banking, hedge funds, private equity, and product management.
Even then, I still was not clear on what product managers did or how you could become one. PMs that I had interacted with seemed to always have been PMs, and no one was very clear on what exactly PMs do. PMs also tend to not be great explainers of what we do (I am no different).
Eventually, I was able to attend an elite business school, speak to dozens of PMs (including my classmates) and obtain a PM role. My case is the exception, however – not the rule. When I bring PM up to my friends back in Minnesota, they still think I am referring to program management.
Of course, when a career path is as exclusive as this, representation suffers.
Recruiters at the large tech giants, to their credit, valiantly try to recruit black PMs. Problem is, they end up just taking black PMs away from each organization, and are not doing a good job of improving the pipeline. Even if a black person gets a PM interview, they are given the same tools to prepare as other candidates with much stronger networks and likely other friends who are PMs (which leads to insider tips, mock interviews, etc.), and this naturally sets them up for failure in comparison.
MLT is doing a great job in this arena by getting folks into business school and sharing resources, but more must be done. I am constantly providing information on what PM is and how I recommend folks prepare for PM interviews – I can only imagine how many people lack access to even have these conversations and thus left not fulfilling their potential as a PM.
I am tired of seeing this. I am tired of seeing the good old boy network effect play out in a field I am passionate about. I am tired of being the only black PM in the room, and having to figure out how to ensure the black perspective is represented. I am tired of seeing black folks do PM, and then have their careers stall or, as they rise, they get shunted into auxiliary functions instead of staying within the primary leadership path. It’s high time to fix this.
My mentor, Dr. Snowden (now deceased), had an amazing definition for success that I carry with me today: “success is defined by the achievements of those around you.” I hope this site further unlocks your potential to achieve greatness.