Naimeesha Murthy on skills-based mentoring for women
Naimeesha is the founder of Products by Women, an organisation that is on a mission to help women find gaps in their skills and connect them with mentors, professional development and job opportunities to accelerate their careers. Founded in 2019, Products by Women has since expanded virtually and now has over 8000+ members in 70+ countries, where professional women and founders continue to network, innovate and make lasting relationships.
Naimeesha is a keen advocate of skill-based mentoring to reduce inequality in tech and pay, and works with women to help them re-engage after the impacts of COVID-19 and lost jobs. She mentors regularly at Rise New York.
I didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur but in 2019 I moved from a product marketing role to product management, which really meant one thing - I needed to develop my technical skills. I knew what I lacked, which was a set of ‘hard’ skills and the technical language that would allow me to gain the trust of, and work with, teams of software product developers, many of them male.
I picked up the required skills formally, through study, and also organically by meeting casually with friends and others, and continued to build my career as a product manager. But one thought stayed with me from that learning experience. Why weren’t there any networking groups for women wanting to learn those hard skills for careers in tech? Mentors might be available within rich Fortune 500 companies but what about in the wider world and in startups? Where would women like me find answers to their career-related and technical questions in those small companies?
My casual chats and meetups about product management skills led to an opportunity to host an event at Rise New York. When it received over 600 RSVPs, it was clear that there was, and still is, a genuinely big appetite to address this skills gap, and that the best way of bridging it for women was by creating a forum to foster personal connections and provide practical advice. It’s something that I still feel passionately about today, and it chimes with the United Nations’ goals to empower women in technology. More urgently, the COVID-19 pandemic sadly means fewer mentorship opportunities for women to advance into tech leadership roles, widening the inequality gap.
The mentoring and events strategy of Products by Women has evolved from the early days when I founded the company. Then, it was simply about building a community of like-minded individuals who were facing the same challenges as me. Events were trial and error – some were successful, others not. I noticed that many of the other events I attended at the time promised a lot but delivered less. There was a lot of padding and fluff but not much in the way of substance – practical guidance, genuinely useful advice and knowledge sharing. I wanted to avoid that.
At Products by Women, we now focus our events on skills-based mentoring with clear training opportunities. We learned this over a couple of years, to the point where now the events are all about imparting knowledge to our network so members can quickly develop skills. The idea is to empower them so they can get creative or unlock problems at work, launch their own new products or deliver in other ways. A lot of events take their inspiration from science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.
For International Women’s Day 2021, we’re hosting a week of events and workshops under the name STEAMtogetHER (STEM + A for Arts) on kick-off skills for women and girls.
We don’t monetize our community or events, everything is free – in fact I’ve been bootstrapping Products by Women from day one and a lot of our operations are run by our fantastic volunteers. I don’t want to monetize this because I believe it’s really important that what I do has a social impact in the world – and judging by the women we help, we are making a change for the better. We’re not alone. Many female founders build startups because they’re inspired to make a difference to people’s lives, whether that’s their family, friends, a community or their own life. Whatever we do, we make sure it counts.
- Challenge the way that business has been driven to date: first you build a product, then you acquire customers for it. Try a different way: first you build a community, then you build the product it needs. This community-led model is known as AuthenTech and it’s catching on
- Challenge yourself. Whatever you do, make it count and make it personal. That way, it’ll sustain you when times are tough
- Challenge companies to be more flexible with the mothers (and fathers) in their workforce. COVID-19 has not been kind to them. “Show up and do your best” should be companies’ new mantra
Discover more, get involved
Learn more about Products by Women.
Get involved as a mentor or mentee at one of Rise’s FinTech Friday event. We’re hosting a special, one-off Female FinTech Friday event for International Women’s Day.
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