It’s National Women’s History Month, and we’re honoring the women of past, present and future by sharing one-on-one interviews with several notable women business leaders and what it took to get to where they are today.
Today we turn the spotlight to Chief Product Officer at Glassdoor, Heather Friedland. Prior to joining Glassdoor, Friedland worked at industry tech giant, eBay, as Vice President of Local and Seller Experience. Friedland led the team responsible for building the technology for sellers looking to reach the company’s 160 million member global buying audience. No small task. In addition, she worked in several product leadership roles at Microsoft following her start in marketing at Jump.com. Friedland shares her story of how she secured a job as a top executive at a fast growing tech company, the hurdles she has faced along the way, and her advice for women looking to become leaders themselves.
Q: What set you on the path to become a CPO?
A: When I attended Cornell University I was interested in the intersection between communication and technology. I had a front row seat to the rise of the Internet and was fascinated as it was rapidly changing my world. I majored in Communications and took as many classes as I could to learn about the Internet, technology, research, statistics, entrepreneurship and business. While I wasn’t an engineering major, I took programming courses and learned about Internet technologies to round out my skill set because I wanted to understand how things worked.
For me, the product role is exciting because it’s about really connecting with people and their wants and needs, and then applying technology in creative, innovative and fun ways to really help them. Today as CPO, my role is more than working to support the needs of all those visiting Glassdoor, it’s also about empowering those around me – regardless of gender, title or other divide – through my approach to product management which focuses on growth outside the normal comfort zone.
Q: Were there times you experienced gender inequality in the workplace?
A: I’ve been in roles where I felt I had to work twice as hard to get half the recognition. And I’m not alone. I’ve found ways to use tenacity and smarts to overcome obstacles and identified managers and mentors who have coached me throughout my career. They have made bets on me and given me big challenges to help me understand and demonstrate my capabilities. I am thankful to be in the tech industry where at least we are aware of the challenges around gender diversity; other industries have further to go to understand that recognition is the first step.
Q: Do you attribute your success to that tenacity and work ethic?
A: Partially yes, it has certainly helped. I’ve been a hard worker throughout my career, but I’ve also selected the more strategic & challenging opportunities that have come my way.
In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg cites a Hewlett Packard internal report which claims men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. That’s a shame. Throughout my career, I push myself and those around me for what we are capable of doing and that may mean we’ve never done it before. While I’ve led large diverse product teams at major Internet technology companies throughout my career, officially I’ve never been a CPO before Glassdoor, but so far, so good. You can ask our CEO Robert or our team how I’m doing — we have a transparent culture, I’m sure they will tell you!
Q: What’s your best advice for women in today’s workforce aspiring to become leaders?
A: Choose the more difficult path. If you’re faced with making a tough career decision, consider choosing the harder, more uncomfortable choice – that’s where you will likely experience the most growth and find out what you’re really capable of. You will likely surprise yourself in your ability to grow and thrive.
In addition, find leaders and managers who inspire you, who believe in you, and are willing to make bets on you to help you learn and grow. Be selective about the roles and opportunities you decide to take on, especially in a big company. Look for the opportunities that are more visible, that are core to the business and customer experience, and work with people who inspire you.
These types of opportunities will push you in new ways and help you uncover new strengths. And most importantly, pay it forward by mentoring others in the workplace.