Challenging the Status Quo

Rachel Wasko

Product Manager at Lyft



As a woman in this industry, you have to be super stubborn. You have to want it that much more in order to make it. There’s this constant pressure to be “nice”, never coming across as rude or assertive. There is a fakeness, an act that must be performed daily as you pretend to be somebody that you are not, filtering everything that you’re thinking through what others expect of you. I can't bring my best work to the table if I cannot be my authentic self.

All women in the professional world go through this. I am very lucky to have grown under the guidance of many mentors who have helped me find my way. Other women, however, inevitably will receive conflicting advice on how they should be in any given situation, in work or in any other part of life. Some take on low-level, “housekeeping” types of roles in the workplace when their talents would be utilized more wisely elsewhere.

Actions taken

Before getting involved with more experienced my mentors in the industry who were able to sponsor and endorse my work, things were much more difficult. After becoming members of their teams, however, I was finally afforded the space that I needed to figure out what kind of PM that I wanted to be. Instead of constantly worrying about trying to be more helpfu, I was able to assess the PMs who had come before me objectively and to gain a sense of what I personally valued, both in terms of leadership and vision for the work at hand.

Sometimes, being a PM feels like being the CEO of our own products and verticals. It can be isolating, as these roles do not always present the opportunity for relationships with others on our level. Some women in our field may not be aware that they are being undervalued in the absence of this peer-to-peer perspective. I am very open when discussing these topics with the women that I mentor. There are rarely avenues that lead to these difficult conversations without a senior PM stepping in and initiating them. I open myself up to my junior PMs about these topics whenever possible.

Lessons learned

  • For me, after trying many different ways of existing in the workplace, I came to the realization that the only sustainable way to do it is to just be myself. Anything more than that is so painful.
  • The first step is to develop your own perspective. If I notice someone on my team doesn’t ever really appear to have an opinion in the workplace, I communicate that it seems like it looks like they aren't invested in the problem or solution. I make a point to get to know her real opinion. I give her homework; I challenge her to question things that she disagrees with. As PMs, our job is to say no and to push back. It’s a skill that is indispensable when stepping into a role like this.
  • I make an effort to take what I’ve learned and to make it available to the women who I work with. I try to create an environment that allows them to be themselves in whatever ways that I am able to. I provide feedback constantly, because that’s what helped my blossom into who I am today.

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Rachel Wasko

Product Manager at Lyft

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionSkill Development

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