Daring Women: Amazon’s Nancy Wang Sees Trust and Empathy as Foundational to Leadership

She also says great leaders practice transparency and inclusion ‘every minute of every day’

Nancy Wang has a big data job with Amazon, serving as the head of product management for the ecommerce company’s Amazon Web Services (AWS) Backup Service. The job entails overseeing the managed data-protection service that enables Amazon’s AWS customers to back up their data.

Wang also is the founder and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Advancing Women in Product (AWIP), which has some 6,000 members globally. AWIP’s mission is to provide training and coaching to women with the goal of helping them to succeed as product managers and tech leaders within their organizations.

Wang also has a national media platform as a contributor to Forbes magazine. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a Master of Science in biotechnology. As part of the latest Daring Woman interview, Wang shares some insights about the barriers faced by women striving to achieve leadership roles and ways to overcome them, her views on mentors and networking, and she also shares some advice for the upcoming generation of female leaders.

What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated?

Good leaders are empathetic and able to establish trust early on with their team. The ways that this manifests on the team can include team members feeling comfortable to voice sensitive concerns without fear of retribution and less micro-managing of tasks and more player-coach guidance and strategic vision. A focus on “set times” for transparency is overrated, because transparency and inclusion of thought ― for all employees, regardless of gender or any other identifying characteristics ― should be a continuum that is practiced every minute of every day.

As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader?

Lack of role models. When you can’t see people like you at places or in roles you’d like to be in, it can be daunting to be the first one. This was a major finding in the AWIP Future of Women study, which surveyed close to 600 experienced product managers. While there are many altruistic mentors who give great advice, there is no replacement for wisdom from someone who shares the same identifying characteristics as you (gender being a big one) in the role that you’d like to be in. This is the inspiration behind founding Advancing Women in Product, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to bridge the gap for women in technical leadership.

How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations?

Even though it can be daunting, make sure your voice is heard. Whether it’s ensuring you have allies before an important meeting or speaking up during the meeting and backing up your recommendations, make sure others are aware of the contributions you bring to the table.

What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you?

I have been very fortunate to have Tatyana Mamut, Ph.D., chief product officer at Nextdoor, as my mentor. She not only encouraged me to start AWIP, and currently serves as our executive advisor, but she has coached me in various moves I’ve made in my career. She is a great example of a woman who has worked hard and “made it,” and she continues to inspire me with how she gives back to other women like me, who are making our first steps into leadership roles.

What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders?

The best way to learn is to get involved in a cause you are passionate about that will put you in front of leaders you admire. For example, AWIP places aspiring leaders on teams and workstreams that will have them working closely with our ambassadors ― executive leaders like Tatyana ― on different projects, including mentoring circles, Female Founders initiative and our annual Executive Summit. Having access to leaders will help aspiring leaders refine their own leadership approach.

How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?

Strategic networking is crucial. Many people equate networking to how many people you know, but it’s more about how many quality contacts you have. I define a quality contact as someone who is established in their career who can vouch for you. It’s hard to get someone who would be willing to put down their personal capital for you, so when you do, make sure to keep in regular contact.

What would you do differently in your career?

I would love to have tried out more career paths or taken a gap year. It really puts things into perspective when you can draw on commonalities in experiences.

Where will we find you on a Saturday afternoon?

Hanging out with AWIP team members, brainstorming our next workshop!

What would be the title of your autobiography?

“A Rising Tide Raises All Boats: How to mobilize men and women to address the lack of diversity in leadership.”

We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire. 

Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.

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