December 5, 2022

Conversations With Black Product Managers: Brittany Bankston Of MainStreet

Originally published on Medium by Glenesha Grant as part of her "5 Coffees, 5 Days w/ Black Product Managers" series.

Our fourth feature is with Brittany Bankston, Product Lead @ MainStreet and CEO & Co-founder for Black Product Manager Network.

Brittany Bankston is currently a Product Manager Lead at MainStreeta Series A fintech start-up targeting small businesses. She got her first Product role after grad school, in Intuit’s Product Manager rotational program. Prior to Product Management, she studied Biomechanical Engineering and went into Medical Device Design.

I started by asking questions to learn more about Brittany’s story and her journey into the product management field as a Black professional.

G: Can you describe your journey into product management? How did it start and what’s next for you?

B: I really lucked out. I had a college friend who was a year older than me, who introduced me to product management. We were in the same acapella group and she saw that I had applied to a product management role at Intuit as she worked there.

I will be quite honest that I was literally giving my resume out to everyone who would accept it because I was just out of college and needed a job. If it wasn’t for my friend introducing product management to me, I probably wouldn’t have known about it.

She told me how exciting product management was because it was in the center of design, engineering, and business.

She was a huge mentor for me and without her, I was pretty lost when picking where my career would go.

Since then, all my roles to date have been in PM. They have mostly been 0 to 1 product development work, so working with big and small companies to build new concepts.

And right now, I am at a Series A start-up. We are growing a ton and it’s been fun to be the PM that is a part of that growth as we think of new product lines and where we could go next.

Lastly, my passions lie with the Black product community as well. Being the CEO & co-founder of Black Product Manager Network and watching it grow to 2,000 folks across the globe is exciting because we can focus on how we can invest in them and give them the skills and tools to succeed.

G: If you have been a part of product management communities, how has being a part of them helped your career?

B: Growing a career is really hard and isolating. In my opinion, communities are the only way to get through, grow, and find like-minded people who have already done it before you.

It is so important to surround yourself with communities that champion you.

Black Product Managers Network has been that for me and others. It has been instrumental to my career development, and it’s been so comforting to know that if I have any questions, or if I need encouragement, there’s a place I can go for support.

After you get that first rejection for a role, it’s easy for it to feel personal. I remember how horrible it felt when I didn’t get a role that I was excited about.

The community of BPMs helps me to know that any skills I’m looking to develop are within reach and getting rejections are a completely normal part of a journey.

G: What is one innovative thing you are seeing changing in the product management field in the next 5–10 years?

B: It’s never been easier for someone to break into an industry. If you want to go into a field or try something new, you can easily find content, and a community of individuals to support you on your journey.

I’m excited about the shift of power into the hands of the people. New business models and products are putting more financial power into the hands of the best creators & storytellers. TikTok came onto the scene and disrupted Instagram overnight. DisneyPlus came in and acquired 120M subscribers just like that.

On top of that, there are so many tools that have become democratized and made free. And I truly believe product managers have a lot of power in all these shifts that are happening.

G: In your opinion, why do you think we aren’t seeing as many Black men and women in tech as we could?

B: That’s a great question and a hard one to answer. I think there are a couple of reasons. I think we need to figure out how to build trust across the table.

One, the most powerful roles in tech in the US are held by white folks. That community has to believe deeply that it’s worthwhile to invest in underrepresented folks. They need to see the beauty & talent that Black folks have in their professional and social spheres.

Two, traditional “Merit-based” interview processes favour the same kind of talent. Frankly, that has worked for these organizations to date — they are extremely powerful & successful, they aren’t incentivized to change.

And three, Black folks need to know they can do it. It’s possible to break in. It’s tough, but it can be worthwhile. Often a tech job can 2X, 5X, 10X your earning potential. Tech jobs can also provide folks with a super high quality of life and work-life balance. We need to tell Black folks that this is an option that is available to them, and there are communities here to support you.

Advice for aspiring Black Product Managers

As someone who is considered a Product Leader in her field, I thought it would be beneficial to hear some advice Brittany would have for aspiring Black Product Managers who want a career in tech.

G: What sort of advice would you give to someone that wants to shift careers into product management without a tech background?

B: I would strongly advise finding a community of people that are doing the same thing. That’s like step one. Definitely do not go at this alone.

It is the most isolating thing you can do when you are trying to switch careers by yourself and not tell anybody about it. If you want to go far, go together.

And lastly, start building your network. Find people that also want to shift or have shifted recently. Find engineers, designers, business strategists. Learn from all the experience you can. These folks are on TikTok, they’re in classrooms, they are online.

Find everyone you can that is willing to chat and learn from them.

G: What sort of advice would you give to Black men and women interested in a career in product management, but don’t see themselves represented in tech companies?

B: I would first say — I get it. It’s tough.

Take the time you need to sit with that truth — it might feel isolating sometimes, and it might be really hard. The path isn’t for everyone, but you can take it slow, and you can always change your path.

The second thing I would say is to get to know your “why”.

Connect with the history of the Black experience. We are resilient people. We connect to a rich and beautiful history. If you can derive a sense of purpose around who you are, and the legacy you’d like to leave behind, the path will be much more worthwhile — even fun!

Originally published on Medium by Glenesha Grant as part of her "5 Coffees, 5 Days w/ Black Product Managers" series.  Find more interviews from the series here.
Glenesha Grant

Associate Product Manager at Loblaw Digital