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Facebook Debuts A New Conference for Women

July 6, 2016, 4:00 PM UTC
Facebook Deborah Liu F8 2015
Deborah Liu is the CEO of family history tracking site
Courtesy: Facebook

For years, female product managers in Silicon Valley have used a private Facebook group to share their frustrations about working in a male-dominated world, the need to recruit more women, and even parenting advice. The sense of community and openness got one of the group’s participants, Facebook’s vice president of platform and marketplaces, Deborah Liu, thinking that there should be an offline version of the forum as well.

On Wednesday, a group of women, including Facebook’s Liu, announced that it would hold its first conference, with Facebook as a sponsor, focused on women, called Women in Product, that it hopes will be one of the first female-focused gatherings to bring together senior product managers. The one-day event at the Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters will take place on September 13 and is for women product managers from across the technology industry including Twitter, Apple, Google, and Uber.

“Being a woman is not the same as being a man within product management,” Liu said.

Women in Product comes at a time when diversity and inclusion is increasingly part of the conversation in Silicon Valley. After a number of high-profile sexual harassment lawsuits, tech companies say they are trying to increase female and minority representation in their workforces.

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Women account for an average of only 30% of employees at tech companies. That share is even lower in areas like product and technology.

The conference itself will be limited to women who have eight years or more of experience as product leaders. Product manager roles differ at some companies, but generally the job involves coordinating between engineering, design, sales and research teams to determine what products companies should build and then helps create them, explained Liu.

Liu explained that she was also a part of a group of Silicon Valley product managers who would get together every few months for dinner. Similar to the Facebook group, the conversation always settled around the challenges for women in the industry and how to balance home and work.

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The conference is a way to bring those kinds of conversations to a wider audience, said Liu.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO and the author of career and leadership focused manifesto, Lean In, will speak at the conference. Others include Eventbrite founder and CEO Julia Hartz, PayPal product exec Joanna Lambert, former Uber product manager Frederique Dame, Greylock investor and former Pinterest product manger Sarah Tavel, and Facebook’s director or product, Fidji Simo.

Similar to the conversations taking place at the intimate dinners and in the private Facebook group, Liu hopes that the conference will help women product managers have open conversations about the challenges of being a female leader as well as lessons learned from their own workplaces.

“The ultimate goal for the conference is for women product leaders to learn from each other,” Liu said.