02/14/24 | Career

So now you’re a VP? How to manage your management role (as a woman).

Below is an excerpt from Anat Rapoport’s new book, Woman Up!: Your Guide to Success in Engineering and Tech, which chronicles her experience climbing up the corporate and startup ladders in the primarily male-dominated field of engineering.

In her first position as VP of R&D, Olivia stayed completely silent during management meetings. She tolerated rude and aggressive behavior like yelling and pounding on tables, and she didn’t share what her department was working on or what problems R&D was facing.

As a result, when R&D missed deadlines, other departments saw this as failure on Olivia’s part, even though she had good reasons for what happened. Since she didn’t share, people within the company had a bad attitude toward R&D, and R&D didn’t receive enough resources.

Then Olivia took a VP position at a different company. She felt more experienced when she entered this role, and successfully making the move gave her a boost of confidence. As a result,

Olivia started speaking up during meetings. It started with small steps, like simply opening her mouth to share an update. When she realized her comments were well received and got positive feedback from others, she started sharing even more. Her positive impact grew, and she slowly changed the atmosphere of the company, from frantic and scattered to calm and organized. She became the most important management member and the right hand of the CEO.

Management meetings

Though there are aspects of being a VP that are similar to being a team lead or manager, some parts of managing at this level are completely different.

One new responsibility is your weekly management meetings with all of the C-level executives and VPs in the company. During these meetings, everyone will share their department’s status, challenges, and issues. You also might learn about upcoming rounds of fundraising or a new milestone number of clients.

In bigger companies, you might be one of a few VPs reporting to the SVP (senior VP). In small companies and startups, you’re the only VP of R&D. Either way, you are responsible for bringing the R&D perspective to the table. Make sure that your voice is heard during management meetings. Share what’s going on in R&D: timelines, measurements, the cycle of a product or feature, including how long the cycle takes, what the process is, and how you’ll achieve high-quality features. If you don’t take the time to educate the management team about R&D, they won’t know what to expect and they won’t be able to make sound decisions.

Some companies tend to focus on certain aspects of the business during these meetings: sales, marketing, and customer success. However, you need to share your department’s perspective. R&D isn’t the worker drone of the other departments; nothing can happen without it. As the voice of R&D, advocate for yourself and your team. Even if the bulk of the meeting is focused on the business, make sure you talk at each meeting, even if that means saying something like, “I’d like to say a few words about what’s going on in R&D before we finish.”

Also, pay close attention to what people share during this meeting, especially the business aspects of sales, customer success, and marketing. R&D tends to only focus on itself and Product, but the business side of the company is also important. Notice if your department can solve some of the problems they’re currently having or that they see as being potential roadblocks in the near future, for example, by sharing measurements and other data. If you can help the company broadly, it will expand your perspective.

If R&D isn’t given a voice during these meetings, problems will start to crop up. For example, sales might think R&D is ready to implement the necessary technology to grow from thirty clients to one hundred. If you’re not, however, the production could collapse. Frame it as a discussion: sales and customer success should check in with R&D about their goals to make sure you are ready to make that happen.

Being a member of management as a woman

At the VP level, you’re often the only woman in the room. You might experience upsetting behavior from the men at this level of management, such as yelling or sexist talk. For example, a colleague of mine heard a VP say they should hire a product manager because she was “such a babe.” Discussing someone’s looks shouldn’t be part of the hiring process, but it didn’t stop this man from commenting on this applicant’s appearance.

While the sexism you might experience at this level isn’t necessarily worse, you don’t have anyone above you to handle it. Instead, you need to stand up for yourself. Actually, you have a responsibility to call out sexism wherever you see it, even in meetings. As a member of management, it’s no longer about you or your comfort level.

Be firm when you encounter unpleasant or inappropriate behavior. If someone yells during meetings, tell them not to. If someone yells at you, tell them this is the last time they are doing so and next time you will leave the room. Say it calmly and firmly. Be assertive about it. Don’t stay quiet. Speak up for yourself, or female coworkers, if someone is being rude.

One colleague of mine worked at a company where everyone blamed each other. Finally, Nyra made a sign with the phrase “I’m guilty” on it. Any time the managers started blaming each other, she would pull out the sign. It changed the atmosphere by cutting the tension. Everyone laughed, but it also showed them how they were behaving.

Another colleague worked at a company that had a very high- pressure atmosphere. The more noise you could make and the more pressure you were under, the more successful you appeared within the culture of the company. Naomi, on the other hand, was very calm and organized. Her colleagues would jokingly criticize her, telling her she wasn’t under enough pressure or cool enough. Rather than yelling and acting excited, she stayed calm. When the company needed a new VP of R&D, they promoted Naomi to the role. Her attitude stuck.

Sometimes, the CEO of a company with a sexist or toxic leadership team knowingly or unknowingly counts on you as a woman to change the tone. Use this to your advantage. Take the opportunity to set the tone for the team and the company, as well as your status in management.

Anat Rapoport has worked her way through every rank in the engineering and technology industries. She has been VP of engineering at multiple companies and was GM and co-CEO in her last two roles. Rapoport is an experienced R&D manager with a master of science in computer science from Tel Aviv University. She is an Israel Defense Forces 8200 alumni, and a mom of three. Her new book is Woman Up!: Your Guide to Success in Engineering and Tech, (Lioncrest Publishing (May 31, 2023).

Anat Rapoport

Anat Rapoport

Anat Rapoport has worked her way through every rank in the engineering and technology industries. She has been VP of engineering at multiple companies and was GM and co-CEO in her last two roles. Rapoport is an experienced R&D manager with a master of science in computer science from Tel Aviv University. She is an Israel Defense Forces 8200 alumni, and a mom of three.

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