Meditation app Insight Timer’s senior product leads are all women — here is their advice to pursuing a career in product management.
Recognizing female tech leaders and companies closing the gap for Women’s Equality Day
In 2021 the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report found that product development careers had the largest increase in female representation in the last year. While progress, there is still a 19% gap between men and women in this field.
At Sydney-based meditation app Insight Timer, 51 percent of staff are women and Deborah Park, Su Kee and Charlie State assume the most senior product leadership positions. Besides identifying as female leaders, they share unlikely career paths in common and transitions into the technology industry without many female role models.
Product management is one of the hottest roles in tech today according to data from technical.ly. Often described as a ‘mini-CEO’ for demanding knowledge across disciplines of design, tech, users and business, it can be an intimidating jump. Park, Kee and State reflected on their journeys and rounded up their 3 top tips for women looking to make the leap.
Product managers often come from really diverse backgrounds, and it’s not always a straight path. Focus on decisions that feel right to you, and forget everyone else’s opinions.
I studied architecture in college, which in hindsight introduced me to everything relevant to my job today: UX, design, engineering, project management, strategy, and even public speaking. I spent 5-years in a truly multidisciplinary playground. The day I presented my architecture thesis, however, was also the day I lost my entire design portfolio! It was absolutely devastating, but in hindsight may have been the best thing that happened to me. I packed my bags, moved to New York, and decided to try my luck in fashion (much to the dismay of my parents). I took 3 unpaid internships in sales, PR, and design, and a month in, knew I wanted to become a fashion designer. To make up for the lack of formal training, I decided to spend a year working in a garment factory learning how to make clothes. Not only did I learn a lot about design, but it was there that I met many amazing mentors who generously opened the door to different design opportunities.
Years into my career as a designer, the same factory introduced me to the founders of a tech-startup, who were working on cutting-edge 3D technology for fashion designers. I had never worked with engineers and had no idea the role of a Product Manager even existed. But I took the leap of faith, into tech, and haven’t looked back.
On its face, architecture and fashion seem distant from a career in tech and product management, but product managers often come from really diverse backgrounds in terms of experience. Nonlinear paths represent multidisciplinary thinking and the ability to transfer skills across situations. In many cases, the jumping around is a product of boldly following your interests — even if people think you are crazy. Each career move that I’ve taken was risky and oftentimes discouraged, but they are the passionate choices and serendipitous moments that have led me to the role that I have today.
The important thing is to find your core values at work; to stay true to these and seek success along that path. The rest will follow.
I was raised by a single mother, the oldest of three girls and went to all girls schools, so I wasn’t taught limitations by gender. I grew up making choices based on what I enjoyed or what I found interesting. This uninhibited curiosity led me to study electronic engineering at university.
Shockingly to me, in 2009 my class intake was less than 20% female. On my very first day I was asked by a male classmate if I was lost and in the wrong room. In this highly male dominated world I was often underestimated or judged based on my gender and appearance. These experiences helped shape who I am today and, even though they no longer phase me, they still happen far too often.
After university, my challenge in building a career in technology wasn’t a lack of support or education, it was envisioning my own career path and finding inspiring female role models I could hope to emulate. I’ve been really fortunate throughout my career to be managed by brilliant, kind and empowering male colleagues; however females in tech leadership roles are still few and far between. I often found myself asking: what does success as a female in technology actually look like?
Many years on, this remains a question I’m curious about and I think the answer is constantly evolving. I’ve learnt there’s no hard and fast rule for success and this can mean very different things to different people. Instead, as I now lead a team and help guide others on their product journey, I find myself asking what it means to me to be a female leader in this industry. What success do I want to emulate and provide for my team: how might I guide them on what a successful career in this industry looks like and how might I provide that for the future generations of female leaders? Honestly, I’m still figuring this out, but for now I’ve found the important thing is to find your core values at work; to stay true to these and seek success along that path. The rest will follow.
Su Kee, Senior Product Manager, Enterprise
Don’t give up when you face rejections because you will, but someone will take a chance on you.
I did everything by the book of what I believed would lead me to a successful career: straight A’s, attend a top school and get a secure job. When I graduated from university, I started my career in management consulting which was the typical choice amongst business graduates. A few years in, I was progressing my career but felt stuck. I wanted to work more directly on my passion for mental health. My father, who inspired my ambitious nature, had always taught me to be bold, have grit and that nothing is too big to dream. It may require risk and unknown, but I knew I could find a career that was both meaningful and successful.
At that time I recognized that the tech industry is where people could really bring ideas to life. Whilst contemplating suitable careers in tech, I started hearing a lot about the field of product management as being at the epicentre of design, tech, users, and business. It seemed to perfectly fit my curious nature.
Like most product managers, I landed in my first product role by someone taking a chance on me. With any career switch into a new field, I experienced moments of imposter syndrome and self-doubt. In my first role, I was crafting our MVP which would determine the next funding raise at the same time that I was learning the ropes of product management on the job. Being a high achiever from young meant that I often had unrealistically high standards for myself. To recalibrate, I started to journal my daily wins as a personal positive reminder that my future self would thank me for.
I also focused on what I enjoyed: learning. In my spare time, I would find top product practitioners to follow, read books and seeked advice from mentors. Soon I had started to build my own product toolkit.
What I love most about the field is the constant opportunities to learn and the diversity of thinking we acquire working across disciplines. If that sounds like you, I encourage you to look into product management! Chances are, you have transferable skill sets in your background.
Insight Timer is the world’s largest free meditation app for anxiety, stress and sleep. It is the only app in this space to grow from a conscious business model, attracting 18 million users through word of mouth and zero ad spend. Insight Timer offers 60,000 free, high-quality meditations from over 8,000 teachers worldwide including His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Russell Brand, Elizabeth Gilbert, Tara Brach, and Jack Kornfield. Its library is diverse and inclusive with secular, spiritual, religious and scientific meditations, music and talks in 44 different languages.