How a leader in tech manages career and her children while prioritizing creating impact
As a principal PM manager of product at Microsoft, mom-of-two Virgilia Kaur Pruthi’s job is unique compared to other corporate roles.
She’s responsible for maintaining a healthy and happy team, creating product vision, and executing alongside many cross functional teams. Needless to say, preparing for maternity leave as a PM involves much more than working with your direct manager.
Virgilia gave birth to her first daughter while at Amazon, and she created an incredibly detailed plan ahead of her leave:
- She documented every project and the transition plan in case she had to take extended time off
- She prepped her direct manager, informed her skip-level leader and kept her peers across engineering, user experience, sales, account management, customer service, and and technical program managers in the loop
- She began including her peers and sometimes her manager in critical meetings and partnership conversations so they had context
- She documented the nuances and discussed and recorded any potential gaps
Things were different with Virgilia’s second daughter who was born as the pandemic took off. This meant her best-laid plans went out the door.
Microsoft offered a COVID parental leave policy, allowing Virgilia to manage her newborn and toddler full-time while maintaining her role and pay.
Despite not being able to create a comprehensive maternity leave plan as she had at Amazon, she returned from leave to the utmost flexibility and trust. Microsoft encouraged her to step up her work and advance her career on her timeline.
Virgilia’s tips for other working PM parents are very similar to how she approaches scaling products. She advises them to make their mental and physical health their “P0 priority,” block offline hours on their calendars and use prioritization mechanisms to ensure they’re working on their top priorities in a given time, and to "trust their gut" while taking feedback into account.
For herself, Virgilia likes to prioritize paying it forward along with managing work and motherhood. While working full-time at Microsoft, she created a program for individuals from non-traditional backgrounds who wanted to transition into product management.
While on maternity leave, she began coaching these individuals and created materials based on her conversations and formally put these materials into a course to scale the program.
She encourages other aspiring PMs to contact her on LinkedIn to learn more.
Read Virgilia’s full Q&A below to understand how she finds the time and energy to work full-time while raising two daughters and helping other product managers
What did you do in preparation for parental leave to help set yourself up for longer term career success?
“With my first daughter while working at Amazon, I created a document that listed out every project and the transition plan in case I had to take extended leave. I prepped my direct manager, informed my skip-level leader and also ensured that my peers (engineering, UX, TPM) were all in the loop. I began including my peers and sometimes my manager in critical meetings and partnership conversations so they had context. I ensured that nuances were documented and any potential gaps were discussed and recorded.
With my second, she was born as the pandemic took off, so honestly my plans went out the door. I was grateful that Microsoft had a Covid parental leave which allowed me to manage my newborn and then toddler full time while maintaining my job and pay. Coming back following that leave was welcomed with flexibility and trust that accelerating my work and career was dependent on me.”
What mistakes did you make? Are there things you wish you had done differently before, during or after your parental leave?
“Totally. My first daughter Jiana did not like sleeping. I wish we had hired a sleep trainer (and stayed consistent) earlier on. With both, I wish that I did not feel like I had to over-explain or over-optimize when I had to leave from work earlier, or take a sick day. Luckily, there were colleagues who helped me navigate this and helped me manage my communication up and across. Present me would remind prior me to focus on your output and collaboration, not obsess about your availability.”
What worked really well in your re-onboarding experiences? What helped you feel good and up to speed faster?
“The work I had set out to continue didn’t quite go as planned. However, my peers welcomed me back and brought me back to speed. It almost felt like going from 0-1 in both situations.”
What did your manager or company do that was really helpful to your success transitioning back to work?
“In both instances, I proactively reached out to other working parents with small children to connect, learn and problem-solve. I do wish that was something which was done for returning parents from companies/managers.”
If you had to name one thing (something you do, something you buy, something you have) that has had the greatest impact on your ability to manage working parenthood, what would it be?
“Something I do: movement through fitness-related activities. Something I buy: journal. Something I have: a supportive partner and loved ones who fill up my bucket.
As your children have gotten older, how has that changed your perspective on how to balance parenthood with career (if at all)?
“My daughters are relatively young, which means they still want to spend time with me! Their joy and love brings me energy and confidence, which is enough to know work will be there – however, these moments won’t be.”
What boundaries do you maintain as it relates to work/home? How have these boundaries shifted over time?
“I block out pickup until bedtime hours for work, and calibrate my meetings based upon what is necessary/critical for my team and then myself. I work out every morning, and my husband and I coordinate days where we co-work/hang.”
You developed a program to help new product managers from non-traditional backgrounds land a job in product management. Tell us about that project: What was it like building this business as a side project while also working full time at Microsoft?
“It is my way to pay it forward. My formal education was focused on liberal arts, specifically on international policy. Over time, my experience and some incredible mentors taught me to lean into my strengths of being comfortable working in ambiguity and asking a lot of questions, as opposed to obsessing about knowing everything and comparing myself to my peers.
While on maternity leave, I began coaching individuals who wanted to transition into PM and created materials based upon my conversations. During the holidays (while the kids were still in school) I formally put these into a course, so I could scale since coaching 1:1 is no longer something I’m prioritizing. Please feel free to sign up and share!”
You’re also a published author of two books: An Immigrant’s Guide to Making it in America and The Very Best You, which is a children’s book. What inspired you to publish these books?
“Storytelling is a skillset I’ve always wanted to get better at, and shed light on individuals who have created impact in their own ways. I wrote the children’s book during the pandemic and while on maternity leave, while pumping with my second daughter (it was either that or watching Netflix 🙂).
When my older daughter (then 2) would ask me to read her a story, every ‘girl empowerment’ book was the same. I wanted to create something they could relate to and get excited about, and that focused on actual life skills and human qualities rather than just career achievements. It was definitely a huge learning, as kids are the most honest critics!”
What tips and tricks do you have specifically for women in product management or engineering as they navigate parental leave? What makes taking leave as a product manager so unique?
“My tips as a parent are very similar to how I approach scaling products. Prioritize your health (mental and physical) as your P0 priority. Ensure that you block off time you will be offline on your calendar, and use prioritization mechanisms to ensure you are working on the top priority for yourself in a given time period. Take feedback into account, but listen to your gut as well.”
What is one professional achievement that you’re most proud of since becoming a parent and why?
“Launching and getting grants for The Alchemy Mindset, while having my daughters participate and celebrate along the way. Learn more here: The Alchemy Mindset.”
Anything else about working parenthood that you’d like to add?
It doesn’t come naturally to not take on side projects or connect with people, so I’ve had to prioritize things/connections that bring me positive energy, as opposed to those that don’t. Both my pregnancies put me on bedrest for months, and with the second, and the pandemic, I was forced to slow down, especially given that my husband and I were managing everything solo while working full time. It took me a while to realize that what I’m focused on today won’t necessarily be the same in the future. So using Annie Duke’s principle of 10/10/10, I calibrated what will bring me joy 10 minutes from today, 10 months and 10 years.
Now that the girls are back in Montessori, I focus on my job during the day by noting down the top three things I want to achieve. Once it’s school pick-up time, I’m cheering the girls on in their extracurricular activities. Given our family’s love for the outdoors, experiences and travel, we have exposed our kids to that so our lives aren’t only revolving around their schedule. This has helped to continue keeping my bucket filled. When I slip, I’m lucky to have a close group of girlfriends (and my partner) who keep me accountable for staying true to my current priorities. There are ebbs and flows throughout. Sometimes I have to work nights to catch up or when the kids are sick. Coming to terms with the fact that what the situation is now will not be forever is the mantra that keeps me going. A healthy set of optimism, laughter, fitness and wine go a long way 🙂.”
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