Hiring Diverse Teams is Product Management

Anuraag Verma
Feb 11, 2019

Pratima Arora, Head of Confluence at Atlassian, shares how to hire and retain diverse talent, and create a collaborative work environment where teams thrive.

Pratima joined Salesforce in 2008 as one of three senior product managers, where she helped oversee the business grow from $300 million annually to $3 billion, with an accompanying 10x growth in users. Consequently, she had to hire almost 20 new product managers. Through this process, she realized the importance of building diverse teams.

Diversity includes race, gender, and more, but Pratima emphasizes that diversity also extends to life experiences, what prior fields people have worked in, and what unique capabilities candidates bring to the table. To this end, she prioritized hiring product people at different levels of seniority. Therefore, junior product managers could benefit from more senior mentorship. Moreover, she hired people from sales, engineering, and customer support.

The lessons that Pratima learned about building diverse teams while at Salesforce proved particularly important when she joined Atlassian to take on the role of General Manager and Head of Confluence. At the time that Pratima joined, Atlassian, which is based in Australia, was building a new team in Mountain View and only relocating 20% of its current team. Pratima was responsible for hiring 80% of the team.

Hiring for Atlassian was different than Salesforce in a few ways. For one, whereas at Salesforce, Pratima could count on a strong base of institutional knowledge, this was not the case for a brand new team. Moreover, based on Pratima’s experience at Salesforce and Atlassian’s cultural emphasis on openness and inclusivity, Pratima wanted to ensure that she was doing a good job both in recruiting the right people and retaining that talent.

Pratima ensured that recruiters had a clear shared vision of the type of team members that Pratima was looking for. Moreover, the job postings themselves had to be inclusive. Nuanced wording can be the difference between inviting applicants or discouraging them from applying altogether. Lastly, Pratima tried to ensure that interview panels represented diverse groups, so that candidates feel that they belong.

While it’s one thing to hire diverse talent, it’s another thing to keep them motivated. Pratima notes that in school, people tend to hang out with the people who look like and act like them and have similar interests. The whole point of building diverse teams is that team members have different backgrounds, experiences, and ways of thinking. It takes time for diverse groups to work together and to sync their different vocabularies, but it is actually that initial friction that leads to the more innovative, better outcomes.

Therefore, Pratima recommends two tactics for promoting inclusivity:

  1. Make sure everyone speaks in a meeting
  2. Create a safe environment where people feel comfortable expressing their true selves

When people do not feel that their work environment is inclusive or that they are valued for who they are and the work that they do, they can become disengaged. Pratima warns that there is no one-size-fits-all for dealing with someone who is disengaged, because disengagement can happen for any number of reasons.

It’s not a problem that will go away on its own, and it can be highly detrimental for both that person and the team as a whole. The best thing to do in any of those cases is to try to solve the problem head on and address the elephant in the room.

People should feel excited to come to work. Product managers have the responsibility of motivating and inspiring the team by setting a clear vision of what the team is doing and why. But they need to balance that mandate with allowing for autonomy. “Give them problems, not solutions,” Pratima says.

Effective leaders still have to guide and mentor their autonomous teams, and the skills needed for this are encoded in Atlassian’s four pillars for product management career advancement:

  1. Communication
  2. Product Management Craft
  3. Delivering Outcomes
  4. Leading and Inspiring

Communication is foundational, even for the associate level. Especially early in a product manager’s career, mastering the skill is essential. Without mastering the ability to ask and solve relevant problems for users, product managers can’t become successful product leaders.

As product managers rise through the ranks, they have to switch gears and put more emphasis on leading and inspiring. For Pratima, this meant giving back by mentoring aspiring product leaders.

You’ll learn a lot from this episode about hiring diverse teams and creating an inclusive and productive workspace and culture.

Here are the highlights:

  • How Pratima approached hiring at Salesforce (4:21)
  • Pratima shares insights from her experience hiring a brand new team at Atlassian (8:06)
  • Pratima’s approach to retaining talent and fostering a collaborative work environment (16:52)
  • Pratima shares how she keeps her team engaged and motivated (20:39)

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