More than just salary: the importance of context to grow as Product Managers – Part 1

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In this episode of Reasonable Product, Salva has invited Tanja Lau from Product Academy to explore the multi-dimensional challenges of product management. 

They discuss the emotional and professional pressures unique to this role, including the complexities of accountability and strategic decision-making. 

They look at the nuances of empowerment in the workplace, the influence of company culture on a product manager’s role, and personal goal setting. They also tackle the industry’s sensitive issue of pay gaps in the product industry, offering insightful perspectives on navigating these challenges.

Finally, they address the critical issue of salary disparities within the industry, dissecting – thanks to Tanja’s extensive survey on the subject –  the factors contributing to pay gaps and offering strategies to overcome them

In part 2 of this interview, they will look deeply at the results of the Salary Survey launched by Tanja and the Product Academy, Salary Trends, Negotiation Tactics and how to balance Job Satisfaction and Financial Rewards.

Full transcript is here:

Salva (00:00:00)
So good morning. Welcome to Reasonable Product. Today with me, Tania Lau. You pronounced Lau or Lau, French version. Lau in French would be like, lo.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:00:10)
That’s absolutely correct. No, Lau? I love Lau too, it has a fancy touch, but so far it’s been Lau.

Salva (00:00:18)
So Tania, it’s been a long time we tried to speak together. We know we got many things to discuss. We never really found the time. And today is the day. I’ve got so many questions for you. But before I jump on those, can you tell us in a couple of words who you are, what you’re doing?

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:00:34)
Yeah, sure. Yeah, my name is Tanja. I’m founder of Product Academy, founded the company roughly five years ago. And what we do is we try to help product people be a little less lost and a little less lonely on the journey in product management. And this is actually what I wish I had back in the days when I started. So we can talk later about the different things that we do, but I don’t want to steal too much of your time.

Salva (00:00:58)
So sure, thank you very much, but you said people, probably people are lonely. What do you mean?

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:01:04)
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of pressure on this profession to shine and produce a lot of results and meaningful impact.

And I think especially if you’re on LinkedIn, you will see a lot of people sharing success stories in hindsight, which is always easier, right? And not so many people talking about the real struggle of how messy things are when you’re in the middle of it, right? And how difficult it is to apply whatever you read in books or all the frameworks that you find to your actual situation. Right? And so sometimes a lot of people that I talk to

don’t dare to speak up about their struggles. They think they’re the only ones who don’t get it or don’t succeed or have trouble applying certain things. And once you get them in a room, in a small setting, they open up.

And that’s what’s happening in our courses, which are very small by design. And then it feels like more like therapy than anything else. But I think there’s a lot of value in reaching out to others and like sharing your struggles. And that’s what I mean by being less lonely. And I see the same happening actually also, no matter which level you’re talking about, it’s also happening for product leaders, especially for product leaders, because you get less and less feedback.

And there’s more and more self-imposed pressure of like being correct all the time, having all the answers all the time. So you run a product leadership circle and that feels even more like therapy.

Salva (00:02:33)
I was going to use this word therapy when you use this. So I like it. When you, so imagine this is therapy, right? They enter into your room. I don’t know if you’ve got a bed for them when they get into your classes or you still use chairs. You don’t have to lie down. So I’m imagining this moment where they will start waking up and say, oh, I’m not alone actually. Everybody, and they start almost crying. What is this one thing when you hear them like crying, say, and they get it out and say,

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:02:46)
We still have chairs, but I don’t mind if people lay down.

Salva (08:24.undefined)
That’s the one thing which is hard for us that we didn’t really dare telling everybody. We were telling on LinkedIn, we were telling outside that everything is great. But in reality, there is one thing on which I’m struggling. Which one would be this one thing you hear more and more?

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:03:18)
It’s really hard to point to just one thing, but I think one thing that most of them have in common is that there is a mismatch between the accountability that they feel in their role and the freedom they have to choose how to solve the problems that they’re supposed to solve. And often they’re not aware about this mismatch. And when we start talking about it, it cracks them open and if it’s like, yeah, that’s it. I mean, I really

I can’t subscribe to this kind of goal unless I also have at least a bit more of freedom in regards to how to solve this problem, with whom to solve it and so on. Often both how you should solve it and also what kind of goals you should reach are both prescribed or not even made that transparent. You don’t know what you’re in for at all. That also happens. There’s a lot of confusion. Sorry.

Salva (00:04:08)
So like, mismatch, yeah. Mismatch, like we are acting a lot. We are giving them goals which are probably too stretched, but not the means to get them or the freedom to get them.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:04:18)
That is one problem that sometimes the culture is not there to work with moonshot goals. In some cultures this can work. I mean, Google, for example, is doing it and people are being paid for working in such an environment. But in other companies the culture is not there because the psychological safety is not there to work in this environment. You don’t talk about what happens if you don’t reach those goals, right? There’s a lot of fuzziness around these goals.

And the other thing that I see happening often is that there’s a whole layer missing between this top level KPI, which is often like a revenue or profit KPI and everything else, like how to set the play field basically in which to operate. You’re talking product strategy here, right? A lot of

fuzziness going on here because a lot of leaders don’t step into this ground and then there’s a lot of junior people who don’t know how to deal with it and everybody’s waiting for the other party to take ownership right and I think often the missing link is the problem between the top level KPIs and on which level the product team is supposed to plug into the system and make a difference.

Salva (00:05:29)
So it’s something like the, I’m going to make it extreme, but top level KPIs, like we want to make a lot of money. And then you’ve got the teams running in circles and doing something potentially disconnected from this. And it’s very difficult to connect like the daily product life to something which is very basic and just want to make a lot of money, want to sell a lot of products, something like this.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:05:41)

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:05:52)
Yeah, and it’s difficult because first of all, often the pure money goals are not so motivating and also very lagging as an indicator. So by the time you know whether or not you hit the goals, often it’s too late to tweak something. And so I think the whole chain of presumed correlation between a subset of metrics and the top-level KPIs has not been thought about or talked about.

properly. And I think that’s one of the main headaches that many teams have is that they don’t really know how to work with hypotheses properly and how to translate them into something that is actionable.

Salva (00:06:32)
I’m hearing something in your words, but I want to be sure that’s right. So, when I go around and talk to product teams and leaders, I sometimes feel they’re like in two different worlds, two different planets, and they’re both right to some example, it’s really difficult to put them together, but usually what I hear product teams ranting about is management doesn’t understand us. What I’m hearing somehow, but I don’t want to be wrong on this in your words is product teams can do things to…

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:06:34)

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:06:45)

Salva (00:07:01)
influenced this two words meeting, the one which is more management. I don’t understand what product teams are doing every day. I’ve got my KPI and what can product people do about it?

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:07:05)

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:07:13)
So first, let me go back to what you just said before. I think sometimes it feels like you’re digging a tunnel from two sides and you’re hoping that you’re going to meet each other. And so on one side, you have the product leaders and also the C-suite executives. And they often complain about product teams not being proactive enough, not thinking in an entrepreneurial way, and being too reactive, and so on.

And then, and maybe also not skilled enough, but we can talk about that later. And then on the other side, you have the product teams who complain about not being empowered enough, which sounds ironic, right? Because you want one side, one step to take action, but they feel like they can’t. Because often they’re so stretched thin in regards to their goals and what they have to accomplish. And

At the same time, as I said, there’s a lot of confusion regarding the role of a product person in most of the companies. And so all of that slows down the decision making process. And I feel like a tendency on the PM, on the individual contributor side, to wait for concrete…

orders to do something, right? So they are not doing discovery until somebody tells them to do discovery, right? And then they feel like we’re not allowed to do discovery, but never, nobody ever told him not to do it. It’s just like nobody ever told them to do it. Right? So I think there is some sort of wiggle room where the worst thing that can happen is a slap on the wrist for like maybe wasting some time on discovery. And

And that’s quote unquote, right? And it’s not really wasted, but for some product leaders or for some executives, it might feel like, OK, enough with the discovery work. I think there’s often more wiggle room also to, for example, start thinking more strategically. But there, again, I see a lot of people waiting and thinking, this is reserved for product leaders. This is something you only get to do when you have the title. And that’s one of the problems that we’re trying to fix at Product Academy with certain courses is like,

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:09:17)
Product strategy thinking is a muscle that can be trained way before you get into a leadership position. And it should, because one of the problems is we’re promoting people who are individual contributors who have never been trained in this kind of thinking and suddenly they lead a team of people. And then again, we have the next set of product leaders who create this vacuum between leadership and execution because there is no product strategy and nobody knows how to do it and everybody’s scared to even touch this thing.

Salva (00:09:44)
So you’re kind of saying you teams are ranting because people don’t empower you, but you don’t empower yourself in the first place, kind of. So you’re waiting for somebody, you’re complaining because people don’t empower you, but you’re not claiming for this empowerment in the first place. Is this so?

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:09:52)
Mm-hmm. Yeah.


Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:10:01)
Yeah, and that’s also because a lot of people have never thought about what kind of PM do I want to be? What do I want my work and my day to look like, right? That’s one of the exercises we do actually in class is to really think about, yeah, what do I want? And we also teach negotiation skills. And the most difficult part of negotiations is knowing what you want, because only then you can advocate for it. And often people are stuck in this kind of…

I don’t want this, but they don’t know what they want instead. And so it’s really hard to advocate for it. And then also, if you want more empowerment, you also have to deal with the fact that it comes with more accountability and some people don’t want that. They just want to like call the shots, but then also not be accountable. And I think this is not how the world works.

Salva (00:10:52)
So when you say which kind of PMs do you have like preset type of PMs you propose usually? You say they’re like PM A, PM B, PM C.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:11:01)
No, I don’t actually. Probably there are some categories that somebody made up. It would be interesting to look at them. But for me, it’s more like one thing I learned in my personal journey in regards to entrepreneurship is that there is not just one kind of entrepreneur, right? And just because you maybe don’t enjoy being at the hyper growth company and leading that doesn’t mean that you’re a bad entrepreneur. It can mean that you just haven’t found the right setting for yourself. And I have been involved in different kinds of entrepreneurship.

projects, co-founded several companies, and now I’m currently a solo printer and I’m loving it and doing it in part-time. So I found the right niche for myself to work with all my strengths and to adapt this to my personal situation. And I think the same is true for PMs because what I always keep saying in class as well is the PM role is very much defined by the surrounding roles. And that’s something that people don’t think about enough when they read job ads and when they…

pick their future employer is more than anything, the surrounding roles will define what your work looks like. So if you have dedicated user researchers, that means you probably will do a little bit less of user research yourself. If you have data analysts, they might do a certain type of work that you’re not expected to do yourself.

as much at least, right? If you have QA people, you do less testing yourself, right? But if you don’t have any of these roles in place, that means that probably your role has a really huge scope that you need to talk about to set expectations correctly. And I think many people don’t go into these kind of questions in their interviews, and then, yeah, sometimes they end up in that place that does not fulfill their expectations.

Salva (00:12:44)
Yeah. And when you say, so looking at what is around you gives you an idea about what are the topics which are, let’s say, already taken, right? And where you can expect to do less. That is also give you an idea what are the topics that the company cares about because you can always imagine like the other way around, say, because there is a product discovery person or team. Sure, you’re going to be doing a little bit less of this in your daily job, but it also means that the company understands the needs, right?

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:12:52)

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (18:18.7)

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:13:03)

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:13:08)
Absolutely. Yeah, yeah, I don’t mean it in a bad way. It’s awesome. If they have these roles, that means that you can probably focus more on product strategy on maybe other things. But if you don’t have any of these roles in place, it’s worth asking, who is doing this kind of work currently? Is it done at all? Or are you expected to do it? Or are you not expected to do it because they don’t care about this kind of work? So I mean, that’s very interesting to dive into.

Salva (00:13:35)
So when people come to you and say, Tania, I want you to join the product academy. By the way, I don’t know how long are the cohorts. It’s like very short things you usually focus on or more longer semester or year long.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:13:47)
We have different kinds of courses. We do have mentoring programs that run usually over the course of six months with a monthly workshop in person. And then in between you have your individual mentor and coach with whom you can do your sparring, you have your study buddy, and you have your pre reading material for the next workshop. Right. And so actually the courses.

We could be condensed into maybe a week or a bit more, but we don’t do that because a lot of the learning takes place in between the sessions. Just like as an athlete, a lot of the muscles do grow in between your workouts, right? So I think it’s very wise to not condense things too much. That’s why it spans over several months to give the participants enough space for their personal growth that happens during the course. But we also do have, for example, the leadership training that we do. That happens…

on two weekends in the mountains. That’s actually my favorite course. I’m always looking for excuses to spend more time in the mountains. And that happens over the course of three months, but very condensed into two weekends, basically. And then there’s also a la carte courses that you can just mix and match according to the topics that you want to dive into. So for example, if you want to learn more about hypothesis-driven product management, that can be booked as a one-day course online. So it depends on what you’re looking for.

Salva (00:14:39)
the mountains.

Salva (00:15:04)
No, thanks for the context because the question I was going to ask is, so when people come to you and understand, doesn’t matter how, what is the duration of the program, which we can vary, but when they come to you and say, Tania, I’d like to be a PM or like to be a better PM potentially, what is their main driver in your experience? Why are they coming to you? What is making this trigger and say, hey, we have to find something, we have to kind of find the product that can, but we need to do something?

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:15:06)

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:15:22)

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:15:30)
So your question is more regarding why do they find us as Product Academy versus why do they want to enter product in the first place?

Salva (00:15:38)
Yeah, it’s more like, yeah, what is driving them? What is pushing them to say, I have to do something about, let’s say my career or the way I do product. What is pushing them?

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:15:44)
Mm-hmm. Yeah. So typically, yeah, the main driver is twofold. One, people want to enter the product space and have not been a PM before, or at least not on paper. They might have done side projects or something else. So they’re looking for a way to make a

a better case for themselves when applying for product management and be better equipped when they start this role, right? So transitioning into product can be hard, securing your first role, right? So we have people from marketing, agile coaches, other people who really want to get into product management, break into product management, and they are looking for a formal training, first of all, to show something to their employers.

Although I have to say we’re not a university, so we don’t give out like a CIS or something similar, but we do give out diplomas or certificates that we issue. But it’s more like for them to show something and show their dedication to this craft. But more than anything, it’s about fighting the imposter syndrome for this first group of people. And we can talk about this in a sec. Yeah, back to therapy, back to square one. And the second thing is what I see often is people feeling stuck in their career.

Salva (00:16:48)
Back to therapy.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:16:58)
Feeling like, okay, I have been a product manager or senior PM for a while. I really would like to take it to the next level and become a product leader. Meaning, I want to have direct reports and become head of product or something similar. There’s lots of titles out there. And then sometimes it’s about the question, am I ready for themselves? And often the people who ask this question have been ready years ago and they just need some…

Yeah, sparing and encouragement. And for others, it’s maybe, I know I will be promoted or I have recently been promoted. And then we’re back to what we talked about before. I actually, now I realize I have never been in charge of creating a product strategy. I have never staffed a team. So how do you actually do that? And then, yeah, they sometimes seek our advice.

Salva (00:17:50)
I really hear like 90% of soft skill or personal preparation and therapy again. And then 10% of hard skill. Is it really so?

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:18:00)
I think people join us because of the hard skills that we have in the curriculum, but they love us for the soft skills and for the network.

Salva (00:18:08)
I like this. OK, so they come thinking I’m going to learn A, B, and C, hard skill. And eventually, they feel the value on the soft, like kind of unexpected delighter of.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:18:23)
Yeah, because of course we can teach them something about the hard skills, right? We can introduce them to certain frameworks or certain guiding questions and so on. We can also show them how to apply them to certain case studies or how to tweak them and that it’s okay to tweak them. But in the end, a lot of the work happens in real life, right? And so it’s not so much about learning all of these frameworks by heart, right? It’s more about, yeah, believing in your own abilities, knowing also maybe upfront which kind of

pitfalls you might run into and how others have navigated this territory. And that’s why it’s so useful for them to also meet so many different product people in the course of the mentoring programs or the other workshops that we do, because everybody has their own style and has also had their own battles, their individual and unique battles they had to fight. And since we do this in a very small setting, as I said before, like maximum 12 people per class, per cohort.

these trainers are very willing to open up because it’s not recorded, it’s not gonna be published somewhere, so they speak their truth. And that’s something that you rarely find elsewhere because often, yeah, on the big conference podiums, things are going to be recorded or they cannot disclose certain things under NDA and so on. And in these small group settings, they really, really open up. And I think that’s something that helps, especially the more junior people relate.

to these product leaders and have a more realistic view of also what they’re getting themselves into.

Salva (00:19:55)
So did you get any student that because of this at the end say, you know what, Tania, thank you very much, but I’m not going to be a PM. So did it happen?

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:20:04)
I had people who worked in marketing and wanted to explore the other side to see like is this something for me? And some of them ended up not doing it, but they still enjoyed understanding the product thinking better.

to also bridge the gap between these silos and these different departments. And I think I have never had a student who said like, oh my God, it was a total waste of time to even think about this, because I think this whole holistic and entrepreneurial way that we look at product in our courses is very beneficial in any role, I think. And for me, like I have to say, for me product is not a department, it’s a way of thinking. So I don’t even care.

Salva (00:20:39)
Tastes a bit legit, yeah.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:20:47)
if they work in product or not, but they become product people by just learning how to frame questions in a certain way and how to look at the business model in a certain way and so on.

Salva (00:20:58)
It’s more of the journey and the title to get at the end, right? That matters. And I was thinking, so this has been a bit controversial, but don’t you believe that to a certain extent, product is the new sexy role in the company? So everybody like to be a PM. A little bit like 20 years ago, everybody wanted to be probably a project manager. And today, you say, oh, project is not sexy anymore.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:21:00)

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:21:18)
Mm-hmm. Yeah. I was thinking about like, why do people want to even get into a product role in the first place and what I’ve noticed in the last couple of years and also compared to my own story. I’m also curious about your story, how you ended up in product, but basically many of us have ended up in product by coincidence.

Many of us did not leave university saying like, hey, I wanna become a product manager and here’s what I’m gonna do to get there, right? For me, it happened by pure accident. I did do a lot of product work, but it was not called product work back then. It came with different titles and it was not as explicit as it was today, right? And so what I see now is that a lot more people move into this profession deliberately, right? So they really…

have this as a career goal. They have more examples to look at also, because back then we didn’t have a lot of product managers out there. And now you have friends maybe in your network, you see people on stages and so on. So you have people to relate to and you know more about their work maybe. Also maybe know about their struggles more than before. That’s one of the things that I’ve noticed. And the reason, yeah, I agree. I think in the last couple of years,

the profession has had a certain glamour to it, also because of maybe a lot of high investment rounds into startups before the crisis, where PMs were also sought after a lot on the market, right? We see that the trend has reversed or stopped at least or slowed down in many cases, but there was a time where it was really easy to get into product in a way like they were really…

a lot of offers out there. They paid a lot of money to get product people. Now I see that after a lot of layoffs, there’s also a lot of talent on the market. So it’s harder to break into product because you have a lot of senior people also looking for jobs, right? Or executives and so on. So that has changed a bit. But I think, yeah, you’re right. I think it also came with all of the cash laying on the streets for a lot of startups. And this has changed. And I think now a lot of, there’s a lot more.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:23:30)
not more emphasis put on profitability. And so the product role is also changing. A couple of years ago, the money was not so much a problem. So you had a lot of funding, so you could do your discovery work as long as you could show some growth. That was okay. But now I see more and more investors also really focusing on profitability. They want to get their money back sooner, and they’re focusing on their ROI. And so also the product people need to show

that they are able to build companies who are profitable, who are built on a very solid basis and don’t depend so much on external cash. And so I think the product role is also changing and I think it’s good. It’s good and it’s wise that this is happening, but not everybody’s made for that kind of role because you no longer only need to look at the customer, which is fun and cool and exciting, but you also need to make sure that your numbers add up.

Salva (00:24:25)
Totally. And you’re opening a segue to the salary part, which of course I would like to discuss. I know that you did a great research with Product Academy, so it has to be a topic for today. Because you were asking my take on this in general, I tend to believe that good things happen to good people. So I’m not one of those that plans too much to the future. You know this famous question, what you’re going to do in five years? I don’t know. But I know that you’ve got your direction pretty much right.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:24:30)
I’m sorry.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:24:47)

Salva (00:24:54)
the actual implementation is going to come over time, and it’s going to surprise you in a good way. That’s at least my own credo. So I tend not to focus personally too much on my next one step or what I want to do tomorrow, because usually life surprises me in a much better way than that I’m able to plan myself. So if I bring this one back to products, sometimes I’m a little bit disappointed, because I’ve got a feeling that too many people are seeing too much glitter around this product stuff,

get fixated on, and that’s the kind of questions I hear very often, like, how do I get this title or how do I go from junior to senior and so on. And in reality, that’s not, that’s not the goal, right? And as long as you’re happy, you probably don’t need to change title or you’re seeing before you can do product without being doing product. So that’s probably where, where I’m a little bit skeptical today with what I’m seeing. Probably there is a little bit too much of focus and because of what you also said, the focus might be fading slightly away because also economic…

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:25:32)

Salva (00:25:53)
context, this might bring Prada back into a more frugal and more back to the basics kind of place, which is probably not too bad.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:26:00)

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:26:04)
Yeah, I agree.

Salva (00:26:05)
And so you were mentioning salaries. So tell us what, what you did with the salaries. You, you, you asked a lot of people around.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:26:08)

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:26:13)
Yeah, I mean, naturally, when I talk to product managers in my work, this question comes up, right? Also in our courses, it comes up when people ask, what am I supposed to ask for when they apply for jobs, right? And I’m not an expert on recruiting. I have to say that this is out of scope for me at Product Academy, but still I felt like it would be so cool if people talk more about their salary. So we had a better picture of

whether people are under or overpaid in certain positions, what to ask for, and also to understand the whole picture of compensation. It’s not just about salaries, it’s about compensation. And salary is just one of the factors. It has to also be seen in the context of how much do I want to work? Do I want to work overtime or not? Am I getting compensated for that or not? How much responsibility am I carrying and so on? And what I don’t like about the reports that I’ve found so far

The few ones that are product specific is that often, first of all, you don’t know what kind of data they’re based on. You don’t know who participated in the survey. You don’t have access to the raw data. You have no clue. Sometimes you don’t even see how many answers have gone into a certain graph that they’re showing. That’s one problem. The second one is often they’re based on titles and titles don’t mean a thing, as we just said. You can have and we saw that in our survey. Sometimes you have people who

call themselves CPOs, they have zero direct reports, they work in a very small team, but they call themselves CPOs. And there’s other people who have the title of Senior Product Manager, and according to the research, lead up to 25 people. And so how are you going to compare the salaries in a useful way if you just go by the title? That’s another thing that we found interesting to look into. And then, of course, the whole context, as I was saying of

not just the salary, but are people getting equity? Are they working overtime? Do they have unlimited vacation days? Like all of these things, are they working in a hybrid way? You need to look at each data set to be able to see if that makes sense for you to go into that direction or not when you’re asking for a specific salary. And that’s why we knew we wanted to release the raw data and we gathered 500 responses.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:28:32)
for this research and you can download it from the website. And I think the most useful thing that you can do is not just look at the report, we can talk about that too. We have like a 50 page report where we gathered our findings and some visuals. But I think the most useful thing is to go into the Excel raw data filter for the country that you’re interested in, filter for the position or the span of a direct reports and so on, and then get a feeling for what others are earning in that position.

Salva (00:29:00)
So what is your, so you said 500 data points roughly, right? Which is a lot, I mean, to a certain extent, it’s not too bad, right? In terms of representativity, I guess.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:29:02)

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:29:09)
It is a lot in general, but you have to know that we were surprised actually. We got data from 42 countries. That I didn’t expect to say. And that means that for some of these countries, for many of these countries, they only have very few data points. And that is also why in our report we did not go into country-specific analysis.

for any of those countries except for the first three, the top three countries where we had at least between 50 and 180, I think, results for each of the countries. So we could do some meaningful analysis. And whenever we went below an N equals 10, like below 10 data points for some of the values that we gathered, we pointed that out explicitly, said, careful, this is really biased.

Yeah, and maybe one more word on biased data, because all data is biased, or almost all data is biased in a way. And this survey was shared in July via LinkedIn, so in the Product Academy network, in my network, but also shared by other product leaders that I’m connected to, mostly over LinkedIn, and also within certain companies that heard about it. They shared it within their communities of practice. But

there is a certain bias in the data just the way it was distributed, right? Or how the answers were collected. And we, for example, have, we have seen a high number of female participants in the survey, right? And that is probably not representative of the market in itself, right? For example.

Salva (00:30:38)
So you say top three countries, the ones where you’ve got your N, which is pretty high. I guess this is going to be Switzerland, the US, and Germany.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:30:41)

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:30:45)
Yeah, so Germany was at the top. Germany, Switzerland, and UK were the top three. And the US had 42 answers in our survey. So we did some digging into the data, but we decided to not go into, for example, different roles. Because then you end up with two head of products, right? And that’s not significant or representative.

Salva (00:31:03)

So this is good to know. So every time we are speaking today, we are speaking basically about this top two, three, four counter maximum. So if you look at this data, what is your takeaway without graphs, without numbers? But if you close your eyes, you say, this is what I’m bringing back of this long survey.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:31:15)
Mm-hmm. Hehehe.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:31:22)
Yeah, I think I have four or five major areas that we can look into. You can tell me which ones you’re interested in. So as I said, one is around titles that I just mentioned already. And the titles often show a certain mismatch to the actual span of control they’re representing.

Then there’s another area regarding the work setup. So how do PMs work, remote, and so on? Like, what did we find out in that area? And then I wanted to look into a potential pay gap between women and men. That was something that I was interested in, where I have some findings. Equity was another area that I found very interesting. And then, of course, the salary itself, like what did we see in terms of how people are getting paid, and so on. So we can do this in any order.

Salva (00:32:13)
I don’t know where to start. They’re too interesting. No, let’s do it this way. Why don’t we start from the pay gap so we…

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:32:14)
I’m sorry.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:32:19)
Yeah, OK. So what we saw in the survey is actually I expected a bigger pay gap in general. And I was happy to see that it was not as big as I expected. But maybe, again, the data is a bit biased. I know that a lot of people from my network also took.

A lot of these people have been students maybe at Product Academy. They have been trained in negotiating their salaries. So maybe there’s also a certain bias in that sense that we asked the wrong people, so to speak. But what I saw, I can tell you the three things that I can bring back from that area. One is for the PMs, the pay was pretty equal between men and women. For the POs, women were even earning slightly more.

But of course, the N was not super high. I think for the POs, we were talking for Switzerland, we were talking about 14 entries for female POs who took the survey. With the head of product, it was interesting to see that they were earning 15k more, the women 15k more than the men on average. But again, also here, not a lot of data points. But interesting, the higher you go up the ranks for the CPO,

It was reversed. There was a 40K difference between men and women with the men earning 40K more on average than the women. Yeah, so those are not huge data sets, but there’s a trend, I think, seeing like the higher you go up the ranks, that the higher the risk is that you are being underpaid as a woman. That’s a general thing that I would like to maybe back up with more data in the next research that we do, but that was a tendency that we saw in our data at least. Yeah.

Salva (39:19.5)
What is your reading? I mean, I know you don’t have a crystal ball, you can’t ask them, but what is your, the overall idea you made yourself about this, say, why you see this data?

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:34:05)
As I said, for the PMs and POs, I can only say that we train people specifically on that topic. So I hope that the women that are in our class, they know what they’re worth in their roles and that they ask for it. That is one thing that might have influenced the data a bit, at least for the ones that are part of our ecosystem. For the head of product, I have no clue. But obviously we also show in the box plot…

graph, we always show also like the entire range that you can see and the average is limited in what it can show, right? So it’s good to look at the actual picture to see like what are the min, max and median values that you can also find in the report. For the CPO, I think that there’s still a tendency for the women that I also talk to in leadership positions to think they’re asking for too much if they ask for more.

And they really, I think many don’t know how much more men are making. Right. So they are satisfied. That was also interesting. We asked like, how satisfied are you with your current pay? And that was almost the same for men and women. The women were a little bit less satisfied, but not significantly. So for the pay gap that we see in certain areas, they should be much more unhappy if they knew men were getting paid so much more. So my guess is they don’t know.

Salva (00:35:27)
Yeah, which is good or bad, I don’t know, but as long as you’re happy. I mean, you still have to pay. No, but I think what I get positively out of this is that the gap generally is less than you expect and I also imagine that the number of participants was lowered at higher level potentially. So probably the gap you mentioned at CPO level potentially is backed up by less data I would expect, right?

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:35:31)
Mm-hmm. Yeah. You’re still underpaid.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:35:44)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:35:51)
Yeah, so for the numbers that I just showed or shared with you, the CPO, we had 19 data entries when we analyzed that. So yeah, the whole set is not big, right? So definitely take it with a grain of salt.

Salva (41:27.9)
And also as you expand potentially, those are, you explained this before, Tania, I mean, there are titles where the meaning is much wider. When you say CPO, it is also potentially, you can imagine you got CPOs of smaller companies or bigger companies is also placed. Right. So there are correlations. Yeah.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:36:16)
Yeah, exactly.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:36:20)
Yeah, we had CPOs who don’t have direct reports, right? So I don’t know if they’re asking for a 300k. I don’t know, right? So yeah, definitely. So that’s why I’m saying again, please do look at the raw data to see each of these values in its context.

Salva (00:36:36)
But also the good thing I get out of this explanation is that potentially, and I’m talking now probably at a more individual contributor level, one hypothesis we could do potentially is that people are working on product. They know what they’re worth. It’s part of their job. They knew a little bit of marketing. They knew a little bit of value-based pricing. And they apply this to themselves as well.

Tanja Lau (Product Academy) (00:36:58)
Yeah, and also some companies are starting to make the salary, at least the bandwidth, transparent. So there is more access to actual data on how much people are getting paid.

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