Hire Women! – Debbie Madden [Rebroadcast] "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs June 06 2021 True Career, Culture, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 8592 Hire Women! - Debbie Madden [Rebroadcast] Product Management 34.368

Hire Women! – Debbie Madden [Rebroadcast]

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Hire Women! - Debbie Madden [Rebroadcast]

Debbie Madden wants you to make better teams because she knows what she’s doing. The founder and CEO of NYC-based Stride Consulting, Debbie offers practical advice for hiring managers, anyone looking for a new job, or who wants to change the culture in their current organisation. And it’s not just that hiring for diversity is a lofty goal – since implementing these practices, Stride has seen some hard business benefits. It has won numerous awards for culture, maintains an enviable employee retention rate, and is more profitable than ever.

Featured Links: Follow Debbie on LinkedIn and Twitter|Want to work with Debbie? Find her at Stride Consulting|Read Hire Women – it’s a short read, and immediately useful. US / UK / DE |Make your job description more gender neutral with Textio

Discover more: Visit The Product Experience homepage for more episodes.

Episode transcript

Lily Smith:
Randy, it seems like a long time ago that we had Debbie Madden on the pod to talk about her book, Hire Women. Have you done much hiring since then?

Randy Silver:
You know, I’ve done a bit, Lily, and Debbie’s advice was absolutely invaluable. And despite the book’s title, it’s about far more than hiring women, it’s about how you set up your hiring practises to build a great team and culture.

Lily Smith:
So did you, or have you hired any women since then?

Randy Silver:
Yeah, actually. I consulted on a process and we designed it to be fair and open, and we ended up hiring someone really great. She was perfect and brought even more to the role than we had thought we needed. So let’s just get to our chat with Debbie so you can get on with hiring great people of your own.

Lily Smith:
The Product Experience is brought to you by Mind the Product.

Randy Silver:
Every week we talk to the best product people from around the globe about how we can improve our practise and build products that people love.

Lily Smith:
Visit mindtheproduct.com to catch up on past episodes, and to discover an extensive library of great content and videos.

Randy Silver:
Browse for free, or become a Mind the Product member to unlock premium articles, unseen videos, AMAs, round tables, discount store conferences around the world, training opportunities, and more.

Lily Smith:
Mind the Product also offers free ProductTank meetups in more than 200 cities. And there’s probably one near you.

Randy Silver:
Hi, my name is Randy Silver, and this is The Product Experience, a podcast in which we try and get other people to tell us how to do our jobs better. So far it’s been working out pretty well for us.

Lily Smith:
Yes, it has. I’m Lily Smith, and I’ve learned a lot from doing this. And today’s show was especially useful, because I’m building a team in my current role. We talked with Debbie Madden, the CEO and founder of Stride Consulting, and the author of the new book, Hire Women.

Randy Silver:
I love this book too, and not only because it’s short. And display the title, it’s not only about women. There’s so much here that’s applicable to everyone, whether you’re a manager currently in a role, or looking for your next one.

Lily Smith:
She’s awesome. I’m already putting some of this into practise, so let’s get to it now.

Randy Silver:
Debbie, welcome to The Product Experience. Thanks for joining us. Tell us a little bit about your background, what Stride Consulting do, and how did it get started?

Debbie Madden:
Thanks so much for having me on, so my name is Debbie Madden and I’m the founder and CEO of Stride Consulting. And I’ll tell you a little bit briefly about who we are, and then I’ll tell you how we got started, the abbreviated version. We’re an agile software development consultancy in New York City. We’ve been around for about five years. And the thing that we believe is our superpower is we embed seasoned technology teams, largely made up of developers, product managers and designers with mid-market and enterprise technology teams to really help serve both as augmentation to your existing organisation, as well as high level player coaches to really model the way in terms of tech and tech process to really help you be that best version of yourselves. And how we got started. I’m kind of a serial entrepreneur by accident if you will, and I, which is a podcast for another day. But I’ve started growing five companies, and I just love everything about growing tech organisations, and so Stride is the latest incarnation of that.

Randy Silver:
The reason that we got in touch with you to get you on today was you’ve recently written a book that we’re absolutely blown away by.

Debbie Madden:
Thank you, yes. And in addition to my day job, I also yes, wrote a book and it’s really meant to be a start of a conversation, right? So it’s literally a 40 minute read. It’s called Hire Women. And it’s, we did paperback. We did, I think we did Kindle and all that good stuff on Amazon. And it is a book that’s very near and dear to my heart, because it intersects inclusion and diversity in the workplace with an agile iterative approach. And so I was really excited to kind of put this book together.

Lily Smith:
So how did you come to writing this book about hiring women?

Debbie Madden:
So, the book, I’ll say it’s called Hire Women. And really the book is about so much more, it’s about inclusion and diversity in the workplace for all. So not only gender, but race, age, everything in between. And I am a female tech CEO and entrepreneur, and so my whole life I’ve been surrounded by this subject matter. And lately it’s been invoked sort of thing, so. And that’s great, but I find that people take an idealistic approach to the whole subject manner.

Debbie Madden:
And the reason why I wrote the book is because I really, I think that’s just the wrong way of thinking about this. I think inclusion and diversity, while it is the right thing to do, it’s also the very practical thing to do, right? And while it is an ongoing evergreen issue, it also is a very easy thing to improve, right? So I was kind of tired of having these endless conversations about whata, shoulda, coulda. And I said, “What if we just take a continuous improvement, realistic approach, and start moving the needle one team at a time, one day at a time and giving ourselves a break and being realistic about the whole thing?” And that’s the approach I took.

Lily Smith:
So the book covers a really practical guide to stepping through how to improve your kind of hiring rate of women, and build a more diverse workplace. But how did you come to those conclusions?

Debbie Madden:
I wrote about things that I’ve experienced myself, and my experiences are twofold, first through the companies that I’ve scaled and owned and run over the years. And second, I have the benefit of not only running an organisation, but of running a consulting organisation. So for a living, all that we do is we see inside underneath the hood of some of the best technology organisations of the world, right? So we have a cross section of data here, and very personally Stride used what I wrote about in the book to actually increase the percentage of women in our organisation by 267% in 10 months. And we didn’t do this with an extraordinary budget, we are a self-funded company. So we did this by one week at a time. And it was such a powerful result that changed not only the number of women at Stride, but also the efficiency of our team, that I really wanted to kind of just reflect on what had happened inside our organisation and share that with people.

Randy Silver:
I’m really curious to hear about how that started and how you started the journey, but let’s go from the end first. What effects did that have, and how did you know that it resulted in improving the company?

Debbie Madden:
So, that’s an interesting question, and I’ll tell you that there isn’t one moment where we passed the end zone and said, “We’re done.” So by that logic there isn’t any slice of time where I can say, “Oh, this was before versus after.” But I can say that in 2017 we had a very specific goal of increasing the number of women at our organisation. And that’s the period where we increased the percentage by that amount, 267%. And when I look at 2018, every single measure of what good looks like in an organisation, we have excelled at. So our employee Net Promoter Score is world-class. Our client Net Promoter Score is world-class. We’ve won awards for being the best run company, the fastest growing company, the most profitable company, the company with the happiest employees, right? So that is a signal, or multiple signals of what good looks like.

Debbie Madden:
And then when you compare Stride to the industry, we are actually, we have scaled faster and we operate at double profit margins than the industry average. We have half the turnover of industry average. So when I look at from a bird’s eye view high level of the accomplishments of our organisation in 2018, immediately following this concerted effort, I’m very happy. That’s one measure, right? But the other measure is, when we’re making decisions day after day, meeting after meeting, when no one’s looking and it’s just us at the table, conversations are richer. Debate is more layered, and those are the activities that result in the outcomes, right? And so we have people, we have more women at the table. We have more people of colour at the table. We have people of different ages at the table. We truly do have a nice diverse organisation now. And I can personally see it day after day.

Randy Silver:
Fantastic. Okay, so now we know the outcomes. How did you get started?

Debbie Madden:
I have to say that it actually had nothing to do with me. So one of the tendance at Stride is that we believe in this idea of self-organising teams and alignment to strategic priority, right? So there’s a balance. It’s not the Wild West, it’s organised, prioritised goal setting. And so every year we kind of say, “This is what we want to achieve. This is how we want to grow this year, over the next three years.” And then in 2017, out of the objectives, a small group of people said, “You know what? We feel very passionate about diversity and inclusion. We’re going to form a diversity and inclusion committee, and my job and my role was simply setting the guardrails.”

Debbie Madden:
So the guardrails I set for that committee were, they had an annual budget and they were free to behave as they wished, they were free to call upon me as a resource. So often they would say, “We want to support this organisation. We want to support this group. Can you come and give a talk? Can you come to the event?” And so I was a team member in that regard, and happy to be so. And then they went about their business and then every single quarter they checked in with me in terms of their results and their outcomes. And then we created these activities together. So it really was a very nice team effort that really came from within.

Lily Smith:
So the process that you talk about within the book, which I think we should kind of discuss a little bit within the podcast, is that the process that they went through, or has it kind of evolved since then as well?

Debbie Madden:
So, everything that we do at Stride is continuously improving, and the process in the book is, this is a real process. This is a process that we’ve used over time. And it really very specifically actually doesn’t start with hiring, it doesn’t start with going outside your organisation. In order to build a truly diverse team that is efficient it really does start by looking inward. And that starts with creating equal pay for all employees and adopting a zero tolerance policy on harassments.

Debbie Madden:
And then and only then focusing on an iterative process of identifying and removing bias within your hiring and retention practises to really achieve your goals. And the things that we described in the book, the tactics in the book are ones that we absolutely use and ones that we continue to use to this day.

Lily Smith:
And it’s interesting. So as a woman reading this book, when I saw the starting point being equal pay and zero tolerance of harassment, I was like, “Yes, that’s so obvious. How did I not realise that before?”

Debbie Madden:
You know, I think that the, I talk about this topic a lot and I always start there, and my very strong opinion on equal pay and zero tolerance on harassment is, just do it. And I say this full well knowing that many organisations have a lot of red tape, you can’t take the Fortune 100, 500s of the world and say, “Just pay everyone equally.” I understand that it is complicated. I understand that it might take a decade to really achieve. I also understand that you might always be aiming towards a goal and never get there. And yet, and still I say, “Just do it.” Because I think the attitude that we all have, this is part of going back to why I wrote this book. This is not what it should have, could have, like let’s change the conversation.

Debbie Madden:
What are we going to do this month to move the needle on equal pay? What are we going to do this month to move the needle on zero harassment? And I have seen the biggest companies in the world with the biggest, most extensive process be able to impact change with a small group of people. It doesn’t take a large budget. It doesn’t even take a lot of people. It takes passion and a few people willing to own accountability for making things happen. And so I really do believe that these things are achievable, and while they’re complex, I fully understand that.

Lily Smith:
So talking about the zero tolerance then for harassments, one of the things I really liked about the book, and a term that was new to me that I kind of came across was the microaggressions term to describe these kinds of these small moments that just put you on edge slightly as a woman. And I really liked that term and the way that you talk about just have a list of those things that aren’t acceptable within the business and share that around the team. But I can imagine in some cases that becoming slightly difficult to manage or difficult to introduce?

Debbie Madden:
Absolutely. And I think one very important point that I want to bring up here is, because we’re talking about harassment doesn’t make every sentence someone other’s harassment, right? And so there are conversations that we have with our coworkers all day, every day. And I’m sure I’ve said something today that was received differently than I intended. I’m sure of it. I can’t put a finger on it, but I’m sure that in conversation daily the way things are said and received is mismatched all the time, that’s part of human communication. And moving the needle on zero tolerance on harassment and really listening to your peers, your coworkers, your employees, and taking these things seriously, does not then mean then we have to walk around eggshells. And so it’s a balance, right?

Debbie Madden:
And so the microaggressions part comes with, it is perfectly fine and perfectly within the realm of the scope of what we’re talking about here to have a one-on-one conversation with a coworker and say, “Listen, you said something to me last week, and do I have your permission? Is it okay if I take a minute and give you some feedback on how that was received? And can we talk about maybe communicating differently moving forward?” That’s a whole nother podcast, a whole nother topic, giving feedback. And people make the mistake of, “Oh my gosh, now that I have this harassment on my radar, everything everyone says is automatically offensive. And you know, we won’t ever get anything done if we act that way, right? So it really is about educating ourselves as to what is acceptable and not acceptable. And then the different levels of severity.

Debbie Madden:
And literally, in New York state it is actually now required for all supervisors and above to have harassment training every single year. And my entire company went through that in, I think a few months ago we went through, a couple of months, I can’t remember exactly when. And even though 80% of what I learned at the training I had heard before, there were a couple of things where I was thankful that I was getting a refresher and getting a moment to really think about it. Because like for example, what if a coworker of yours 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning says something on Twitter that upsets you, right? What is that? Is that just someone tweeting, or is that harassment? So this whole world of ever connectedness and social media is putting an extra layer of complexity on things. And as a supervisor it’s on me to really be aware of those things. And so if somebody comes up in my organisation, I’m equipped to deal with it. So it’s a grey scale here.

Randy Silver:
One of the things I really liked about the book is, aside from the philosophy, you give a lot of very practical, hard advice. And one of the things you talk about was a skill matrix, a career ladder, and then a role matrix and salary bands. Can you talk us a little bit through that? What that looks like, what that actually means?

Debbie Madden:
Yep, absolutely. So the second piece of the inclusion puzzle is equal pay, and that doesn’t mean you should pay your CTO and your intern the same salary. What it means is, as you mentioned, Randy, is creating a skills matrix and a career ladder. So what this does is it lets every single person in your organisation have very clear expectations around what is expected in their role, and what they need to do to advance to get promoted. So let’s say if we have a software engineering team and very basically we have junior, mid, and senior level, that’s your career ladder, right?

Debbie Madden:
And the skill matrix might be well, a junior level employee might need to know test-driven development, where a senior level developer might need to know continuous deployment. I’m just kind of simplifying this to its core, but, and then what you layer on top of that is salary bands. At Stride every level on our career ladder has roughly a 15,000 or $20,000 salary band. And so if I’m a junior developer at Stride, I know that in order to advance, I know how much money I have within a $20,000 band to achieve. And then I also know what’s expected of me in order to achieve that. The band gives room for your A-players to really excel, right? So I’m not saying, “No matter what you do when a year you’re going to get a $5,000 raise” because that’s the quickest way to lose your A-players. What I’m saying is, if you do what’s expected of you, you will make within this band.

Debbie Madden:
And then I’m also saying, which I think is a key thing that a lot of people fall short on is, you have the right as an employee to request a promotion the day that you believe you achieved the goals of the requirement for promoted. So if I’m a junior level employee and in six months I’m at mid-level, I have the right to ask to get promoted to mid-level and earn that extra salary and earn that extra title. And then that really motivates people to grow at a pace that they’re comfortable growing in order to achieve their own career goals and kind of puts employees in the driver’s seat.

Randy Silver:
So you’ve got a, I’ve been in big companies where that’s a real point of contention is, do you get promoted when you’re ready? Or do you get promoted only when a role opens that is at that level? How do you deal with that from a perspective of management and planning?

Debbie Madden:
That’s a really great question. And there is no black and white, right? I’m going to fall back on agile on this one. It really is like, I think a lot of people use excuses to do nothing, right? So someone might say, “Oh, well, that’s great, Debbie. But my company is biggest company in the world and we have open roles, therefore I can’t do this.” And I think that’s what I’m trying to change the conversation on. Like, let’s get rid of the, “Therefore I can’t do this.” And let’s say, “Okay, what can I do within the boundaries with which I’m given to work?” And it’s a very real fact that a lot of companies say, “All right, well, we only have two senior slots open on this team. We only have this many and either you have to wait for a seat to be vacant, or you have to move to another team.”

Debbie Madden:
I think I would push hard against that and really start to talk to the people that can influence that inside the organisations and come up with some annual goals to kind of change the promotion system inside the organisation. And it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to be easy, but there are things that you can do. You could, as a company take the hit on profit margins and pay people what they’re deserve based on their achievements. And then we reorganise teams as, I don’t know, once a year or something like that. Or you could have very honest conversations with people that say, “This is where you’re at. We don’t have room for you here. Let’s start thinking six months ahead, where else in the org has a spot for you?” I think there are lots of achievable, small things or big things, right? And the bigger the thing, the more complex it might be.

Debbie Madden:
But one of the practises I advocate for in the book is creating a mind map, which is simply drawing out all of the things that we think we want to achieve and then tying that to complexity and impact. So we might look at this and say, “All right, in an ideal world everyone gets promoted as soon as they deserve it. And in order to do that, we can do these three things. And thing number one has high impact and it’s very easy. And thing number two has high impact and it’s very hard. Well, let’s do the first thing.” And that might give 30% of the people what they want and not a 100% of. You know what I’m saying?

Debbie Madden:
So it really is about looking at the world what’s possible inside your organisation, and every single quarter, when you’re doing quarterly or annual planning, whether you have OKRs, whether you have annual initiatives and rocks, whatever your prioritisation system is, simply pick a priority that is going to take you one step closer to equal pay.

Lily Smith:
I understand kind of the zero tolerance for harassment. And I have my own kind of view on how the equal pay structure and the practise that you need to go through with putting these bands in place and making it really clear how you move from one band to another would work for women and how that has an impact. But what’s your kind of take on why this makes a difference to women being more comfortable or being more open to joining an organisation?

Debbie Madden:
So I really like this question, and I appreciate you asking it. I think there are, as much as I like to broaden the conversation to different types of diversity, when you look at data, there is a very real difference in the way that women and men advocate and negotiate, especially when it comes to salary. And so one of the things that I like about creating the structure inside the compensation part of the organisation is that it kind of levels the playing field. And I think when it comes to creating a workspace where there are more women and where more women are in leadership roles, if you look at any woman individualised, that individual woman may or may not be really great at advocating for herself. But if you look at women as a whole, in general we are less effective at negotiating salary for ourselves than men are. And so this is one thing that an organisation can do to help that out.

Lily Smith:
So I have a few women that I work with on a consultancy basis, so they do various different jobs and I find it very satisfying to kind of pitch them into other businesses, because occasionally they won’t kind of pitch themselves with their full potential. It’s much easier for me to sell them into a business than it is for them to sell themselves, so yeah. So once you’ve kind of got your equal pay and your zero tolerance for harassment plans sorted, what’s next, what comes after that?

Debbie Madden:
So then we start to move into hiring and retention, and teams, individuals falsely rush to hiring as the first step when thinking about diversity and inclusion. And I really do believe that kind of shoring up the foundation inside the org will go such a long way. And then once that is, not done, but paid attention to, and there is a plan in place to start furthering the goals towards those two objectives of equal pay and harassment, zero tolerance on harassment.

Debbie Madden:
Then when we talk about retention and hiring, often the most effective thing to do is to have a continuous loop where you identify bias and then remove bias. Because today most companies are kind of actively hiring all the time, right? And so for a startup that might not have any hiring engine in place, then we could just kind of take this formula and just kind of start it fresh, which is nice. And for all of you, hoping that you’ll avoid having bias. If you’re a startup, likely bias will creep in, even given best intentions. So let’s assume that all of us will have bias in our retention and hiring practises at some point or another. Then what we want to do is we really want to take a look at where we think the biggest biases are, whether they’re … Usually there unconscious bias, there might be others. But again, it goes back to that mind map of finding that lowest hanging fruit in terms of the things that you think are the weakest, in biggest state of disrepair, and then how easy it is to fix them.

Debbie Madden:
So one of the easiest, there’s two, like when it comes to job descriptions and the image you portray to the world, this is the easiest stuff ever. You take your job description, you plug it into Textio, it’s T-E-X-T.io, and Textio in 30 seconds will tell you how to make your job description more gender neutral. And that’s it, simple as that. And in 30 seconds you can have wording in your job description that will impact the people that actually applied to your job. And I can tell you that from personal experience, this is actually real. And I was a huge sceptic of this years ago. And I actually did an experiment where I put a job post for an HR role and then put the job through a gender neutral wording tool, changed about 10 words in the job post, and actually went from 75% men applicants to 75% women applicants with the same title, like literally overnight. So-

Lily Smith:
Amazing.

Debbie Madden:
… that’s easy, simple. And then the second easy thing is like, simply just take a look at your website and all of your social media, just the big ones, like look at your, if you have a Facebook page or an Instagram page, a LinkedIn page, perhaps if you’re advertising on the news or something like that, just look at the images. And if it’s all one type of person, just put up a picture. Literally just do that. And if you only have one type of person at your organisation, be as honest as you can and get someone else in there, put an advisor in there. Bring a board member, like anyone that you can, because that’s the biggest signal. That’s all people know about your company. And from that one picture they’re taking a look at who you are and so really represent your organisation as best as you can through the images and the words that you use to describe your company. I mean, that could be done in a matter of weeks, even at the biggest companies.

Randy Silver:
My last couple jobs we used Textio or something very similar, and it was amazing. We just didn’t realise that the default job specs that we had were sending out a signal that we didn’t intend. It was-

Debbie Madden:
Right, and I got to tell you, I as a woman in tech was writing masculine job descriptions for 15 years. I’ll admit it. I feel like I’m like, “My name is Debbie and I confess.” I couldn’t believe it. When I realised this about myself, I was shocked. And I’m so glad I know this now. And I had no idea, I just had no idea.

Randy Silver:
I love the example in the book that you use around orchestras, and they were doing everything through, they tried to go gender neutral, but they didn’t quite get it right the first time.

Debbie Madden:
Yeah, I love the orchestra example because I think this idea, we’re talking about this idea of removing bias in your interview process by having one part of it be blind, meaning you truly are blind to the person’s identity. And the orchestra example is, they had tryouts and very, very few women were making it through. And then they decided to have people try out behind a closed curtain, yet and still very few women. I mean, something like 5%. I mean, very few women were making it through to the orchestra.

Debbie Madden:
And then they had candidates remove their shoes. And the day that they did that, they started increasing the percentage of women that made it into the orchestra. And it was simply hearing the click of a woman’s heels gave you that little bit of information that you needed to assume that it was a woman, and without realising it impacted your perception of their quality of play. And you know, this is with the best intention, and we all do it without realising it. So it’s not about placing blame, right? It’s about tricking our brains almost. Like what can we do knowing that our brains are going to fail us, even when we’re good people, to give us the best chance at building a diverse organisation?

Randy Silver:
Or they could have just given everybody tap dancing shoes?

Debbie Madden:
That would work too, any type of universal shoe would.

Randy Silver:
So when you’re in the interview process, I know I get this question a lot and it’s something I refuse to ask, but when should you, or should you ever disclose your previous salary?

Debbie Madden:
That’s an interesting question. And I have opinions on that as you can imagine, and I’ll tell you what my opinions are. So I know that New York State recently prohibited employers from asking outright, “What do you currently make? Or what did you currently make?” And I like that. I like that New York State did that. And when you’re looking for a job, I’m just going to make it personal. Let’s say one day I need to look for a job. Well, there are certain things I know about myself, right? I have two children. And so work-life balance is critically important to me in any job I get. I’m not willing to travel 75% of the time for more money. I know that, I know that about myself.

Debbie Madden:
I also have a very, very high moral compass. So I am not willing to work with a team that I can’t feel I can be vulnerable with and trust. And so that’s part of my non-negotiable offer, as well as the money that I’m looking to make. And so for me, I want people to know, “This is what I think I’m worth. And this is what my current employer thinks I’m worth.” And I think that’s valuable because I think I’m currently getting paid what I’m worth. You know what I’m saying? Now I’m just using those examples, because of course I’m the CEO, so I don’t have a boss, so it’s unfair. But I’m just using my myself in as an example. And I believe when people are looking for a job, it’s within your right to disclose what you want to disclose about your own self.

Debbie Madden:
Now, one thing that you do owe to your future potential employer is to disclose any accommodation you might need. And so that’s different, but that will impact compensation. Sometimes people need a religious accommodation. I have to leave work, if I’m an Orthodox Jewish individual and I have to leave work before sunset on Friday. That’s a very real thing, that’s a non-negotiable for me. I can’t be judged on it. My employer is not allowed to judge me on this, but it’s an accomodation. If I have back pain and I need to stand every hour, I can’t sit still for that long, I need to. I need to tell my employer the things that are really important to me, and that’s different for every person. And compensation’s important. And so if it’s important to you and you feel you’re being paid fairly and you want to disclose that, there’s no law against talking about it from the interviewee side.

Lily Smith:
I think it’s really interesting the accommodation point, and I have three boys and one of them has autism. And so I’ve been learning a whole tonne about autism in the last few years since he had his diagnosis. And it’s made me very aware of the other people around me that I work with. And the fact that you don’t kind of really fully appreciate how other people are thinking or feeling at any one time, and what they might be struggling with. So there’s that kind of accommodation for different sort of well, neurodiversity is the term that they use.

Debbie Madden:
Absolutely. Absolutely. And this goes back to the advocating thing, right? As a woman, as a man, as any gender, it’s on us to advocate for ourselves. And if there are things that we think are important to us, we owe it to ourselves to discuss those things. And people say, “Well, what if I don’t get the job once I disclose a thing?” And then my response is, “Well, you should go ahead and thank that person, because you don’t want to work with that person. And they’ve just saved you a lot of time.”

Debbie Madden:
So if you’re going to be honest and share the things that are really important to you with a potential employer and they reject that, then that’s, you’re not going to be happy there and you’re not a fit. And the sooner you know that, the better, and that’s a scary leap of faith to take and I understand that. And I haven’t yet met an individual, I’ve been working 25 years, I haven’t yet met that individual who hasn’t taken that very piece of advice and then thanked me later. Because as scary as it is, if you’re honest with someone about the things that are really important to you, they will either respect that, and then you’ll start your new job on good footing. Or they’ll reject that and then you’ll be saved a lot of years of misery.

Randy Silver:
So one of the ways that you establish a good relationship is you have a handshake deal that you do with people as you bring them on board. Tell us a little bit about that?

Debbie Madden:
So my handshake deal, which I started doing about four years ago is, whenever I offer someone a job, I sit down with them, go through the benefits, the compensation, the job requirements. And then at the end I say, “Listen, you can like everything that’s on this piece of paper, but here’s what I need you to verbally commit to if you take this job. And that is that you own advocating for you. If something is not working for you, you are the only one that has the full context of what is going on for you. And I don’t have a crystal ball. None of your coworkers have a crystal ball. You are the only one that really has a full spectrum of knowledge of your life.”

Debbie Madden:
And the other side of that deal is, and I literally will actually say this. I say, “You have to be a professional, and you have to be part of the solution team as well. This isn’t Tinkerbell land. I can’t just spray fairy dust and make the problems go away overnight. You have to give us the professional courtesy of working through how to make this better for you. And it might take a day, a week, a month, a year, and we have to solve this together.

Debbie Madden:
Exception to the rule, if you are unsafe in some way, then that’s a today sort of thing. But if it’s, ‘I want to work in React and I’m working in Java,’ I’m going to need three months. And then, if we address the problem and it’s still not working for you, then you should move on and I’ll be your biggest supporter. I will provide you references. I will move mountains to get you a new job. But I absolutely do not want you to stay at Stride if you would rather not be here, because that’s the quickest way to stop a whole culture.” And so that’s the handshake deal.

Debbie Madden:
And I say to people, I say, “Listen, I want you to think about this. And when you wake up tomorrow, if you’re jumping up and down really excited about this handshake deal, I would really love to work with you. And if you’re not, then I don’t want to work with you.” And that helps get the right people into the company. More importantly, it helps have the conversation a year later when the employee might have forgotten that. I said that to them. And then I might notice something and I might say, “Remember last year when I said you got to advocate for you, what’s going on for you right now?” And then it’s like that permission in the flood gates open, and then we have a conversation it’s just, it’s so powerful. It just give someone the permission to advocate for themselves.

Lily Smith:
And I think it’s really important to be given that permission, because in many of the businesses you wouldn’t have it.

Debbie Madden:
Right.

Lily Smith:
You wouldn’t have, it might be kind of frowned upon, or dismissed, whereas to be able to set those ground rules right from the beginning. Like you say, it kind of gives you that permission.

Debbie Madden:
Right, absolutely.

Lily Smith:
So how, in your experience then throughout your career, how much have you been on the kind of the receiving end of bias or negative experiences I guess, of being a woman and working in technology?

Debbie Madden:
I’ve experienced it. So I’ve kind of bucketed it into two extremes. And I think, I don’t know, maybe that’s just the way my mind works, but so I bucket it into 97% of people in the world are good people, and 3% are bad people, roughly. And when I, it’s like your spidey sense, right? If I come in contact with that 3% and they show their true colours and it’s blatant bias or harassment, I will just kind of call it as quickly as possible and separate myself from that person as quickly as possible, literally by quitting a job if I have to, or by firing an employee if I have to. Just literally physically separating permanently from that person or firing a vendor, whatever the hard thing has to be.

Debbie Madden:
If it’s blatant and it’s unavoidable and eternal, I will part ways as quickly as possible. And then the rest of the time my tactic is, I call it making allies outside of the boardroom. So by this I mean, there is a very real, actual gender bias that happens where women, if we’re aggressive in business, we’re seen as bitches versus as successful. And so most people do it, men and women do it. We all do it. Every time I say men and women, I feel like I’m neglecting a third and multiple other genders. So I apologise.

Debbie Madden:
All humans, I try to say humans, and I’m not yet practised at it, but we all humans disadvantage women for being aggressive in business. And so when I encountered those 97% of people, my strategy has worked very effective my entire career, which is I get buy-in for my ideas one person at a time. So it takes longer. And sometimes I actually even will try to lead someone down a path so that they come to the idea and they kind of even own and champion the idea on their own and then I wind up supporting them. And I think it serve me very well, versus trying to answer a room of 20 people and kind of brute force my way into buy-in in a group. I think women have a harder time of that than men.

Lily Smith:
Yeah, I agree. I recently had an interesting situation where I was organising an eventually, and I thought I’d been very kind of giving everyone roles within the team and giving them lots of autonomy to fulfil all the objectives that they had for the event. And then we went for dinner at the end of the event and they were like, “Yeah, we just do what Lily says, because she’s scary.” And I was like, “Oh, I thought I was being really nice.” And I was talking to my sister about it. I was like, “Am I really scary?” She said, “No, no, it’s fine. Because actually, if,” I can’t remember, she put it something like, “If you’d been aggressive, then they would have hated you. But instead you were assertive, so they just were a bit scared of you.”

Debbie Madden:
I love that, I love that.

Lily Smith:
Yeah, it was very funny. It was very insightful. It made me feel much more comfortable about the situation. So we’re kind of running out of time. I felt like we could talk loads more on this subject. Is there anything else that you would kind of, aside from reading the book, Hire Women, and other people of other kind of diverse backgrounds, is there anything else that you would kind of really recommend people do to try and provide a more diverse workplace?

Debbie Madden:
The single biggest thing that I’d recommend that we haven’t talked about yet is, if you are listening to this, get yourself as many mentors as you can. And these mentors should not be coworkers. They should be people that don’t work in your organisation. And as many mentors as you can get that are not like you, the better. So if you are of a certain age, or gender or race, then find people that are not like you. And a mentor relationship does not have to take a lot of time and does not have to be mentally taxing. And the more all of us can spend time helping and getting help from different types of people in our lives, the more we all gain a better understanding and empathy for different types of individuals. And I think that’s the way that we make this entire initiative easier and more impactful. So that would be kind of my big request to everyone who hears this.

Randy Silver:
I’m going to go ahead and recommend that everyone be a mentor themselves. And that can also be a reverse mentor in some cases to somebody more senior than you. But, and that’s a great way of making connections. One of the hardest things I’ve found and I’ve seen for other people is, entering into the mentorship relationship with someone else to find a mentor. Do you have any advice on recruiting someone to help you out?

Debbie Madden:
People are very hesitant to ask for help, and I’m not sure why. And I think people feel that they are imposing on someone’s time. And I think, Randy, what you said is so key is that I’m going to extrapolate what you said is that every relationship really is a two-way street. So by asking someone to be your mentor, you’re really also asking if they need any advice from you, or if there’s anything you could do to help them out. And so we all come in contact with people, whether you go to a meeting with someone and you say, “Oh, I really liked the way that person thinks about this thing.”

Debbie Madden:
Or whether you are out with your friends on the weekend and you meet someone new and you really appreciate their perspective on things. I think mentors can come in any shape or form, and they don’t have to be the CEO of a company. They don’t have to be someone that’s been working for 30 years. A lot of people in my life that are my mentors are people of all ages, walks of life, experiences, everything. And some of my mentors I only simply use once a year. And I call them up and I say, “I have a question. I need 15 minutes of your time.” And they give it to me, and then I give them 15 minutes of my time.

Debbie Madden:
Just use every interaction you have as an opportunity to connect with someone, following the conversation, go to a tech conference. Oh my God, there’s hundreds of people there. You don’t have to say, “Hey, can we do one call? And if it’s not working for you then okay, that’s it. Okay thank you for your time,” and that’s it. It doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment here either, right? Just finding ways to connect with people so they can give you perspective. I think that’s really important.

Randy Silver:
The place that I came up with reverse mentorship or where I saw it in action was a very large company where the senior management aggressively went out to recruit people to help them out. And they got some of the most junior frontline staff and the things that they from those people were things like, how do they use social media? What are their attitudes? Things that they, 50 and 60 year old people had no clue about, but that people in their early 20s did natively. And it doesn’t have to be something that’s purely professional that you’re learning. It’s how to better market yourself, how your customers are acting.

Debbie Madden:
Absolutely.

Lily Smith:
Amazing, I think we should probably wrap up there before we take the rest of your day.

Randy Silver:
Oh God, there’s so much more we could talk about, Debbie. Thank you so much.

Lily Smith:
I know, I know.

Debbie Madden:
This has been absolutely wonderful. I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you both, and thank you so much for having me.

Randy Silver:
Thank you.

Lily Smith:
That was great. But after hearing both of you talk, Randy, it leaves me with a really important question. Are you sure you’re from New York?

Randy Silver:
Oh. Yes, but I’ve been in the UK entirely too long. I say lovely and brilliant and cheers. And I’m now realising that my accent has changed too, dammit. But yeah, I loved talking to Debbie. I’ve done something like the handshake deal before, but never so explicitly. I’m definitely using that in the future. And the advice on sharing previous salary numbers is spot on.

Lily Smith:
And next week we get more great advice from New York. Donna Lichaw joins us to talk about storytelling and her journey from being a doer to a consultant and now to coach, and what to look for in a coach.

Randy Silver:
So tune in then, and don’t forget to subscribe so you get this kind of great advice every week.

Lily Smith:
We’d love to know what you think. Please tweet us, @MTPpod.

Randy Silver:
The Product Experience is part of the Mind the Product network, check out your local ProductTank today. Find it at mindtheproduct.com/producttank.

Lily Smith:
And here’s global ProductTank manager, Marc Abraham, to tell us more about what ProductTank is.

Marc Abraham:
ProductTank is a global community of meetups in over 155 cities across the world, driven by and for product managers. Whether you have a group discussion or you’re listening to speakers, the whole idea is to create a safe environment for product people to come together and to share their learnings and tips.

Randy Silver:
Have you seen a great talk? Nominate a future guest on the podcast channel on the Mind the Product Slack. You can find that at mindtheproduct.slack.com.

Lily Smith:
If you want to learn more about product management, take a look at mindtheproduct.com/training to see what courses are on near you.

Randy Silver:
Emily Tate is our executive producer. Our theme music comes from the German band P.A.L, featuring Arne Kittler of Product Tank Hamburg.

Lily Smith:
And that’s goodbye from Randy and Lily, see you next time.