In this podcast episode, Nic interviews Raena Saddler, the director of Product for Youth Wellbeing and Equity at Meta (formerly Facebook), where she leads teams to focus on making Meta's products more equitable and inclusive and supporting teams to create a positive, safe and an age appropriate experience online. Prior to this role, she was VP of product and managing director at Cheryl Sandberg's Lean in Foundation. In her more than six years there, she helped develop initiatives that raise awareness of critical issues to advancing women at work and developed programs to help companies build equitable and inclusive workspaces.

1st Buck Podcast Raena Saddler

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • How Raena built a technology career that enabled her to get closer to mission-oriented work
  • What is the importance of finding mentors and sponsors who believe in your skills and can help you advance in your career?
  • How can proactive problem-solving and creating an inclusive and empowering work environment change the game for everyone?
  •  What is the importance of authenticity in relationships and careers?
  • Raena's advice for working moms, including the value of prioritizing and presence


In this episode…

Raena Saddler, the director of Product for Youth Wellbeing and Equity at Meta (formerly Facebook), shares her career journey and offers advice for young adults and working moms in an interview on the First Buck podcast.

She emphasizes the importance of authenticity in building relationships and finding mentors who can invest in your growth. Raena also highlights the value of proactive problem-solving and taking ownership of challenges in the workplace. She encourages individuals to identify what truly matters to them as parents and professionals and prioritize those aspects in their lives. Raena also mentions the significance of being present and making meaningful connections with loved ones.

Nic Cary welcomes Raena Saddler, director of Product for Youth Wellbeing and Equity at Meta (formerly Facebook) to discuss the lessons learned during her career journey. Raena talks about finding a path to a mission-oriented career, and how to focus on the problem to create unexpected results. Raena also shares the value of mentorship, mentorship expectations, and the importance of community and family.

Sponsor for this episode:

This episode is brought to you by Sky’s The Limit, one of the largest nonprofit programs for underrepresented young adult entrepreneurs in the US. Sky’s The Limit is a quick-growing digital platform that connects entrepreneurs with their peers, volunteer business mentors, training resources, and funding.

Our goal is to develop the social capital that founders need to chase their business dreams.

To learn more, please visit today.

Episode transcript

Intro  0:04  

Welcome to The First Buck Podcast, where we feature stories about entrepreneurs and the people who support them. Now, let's get started with the show.

Nicolas Cary  1:51 

All right, here we go. Hello and welcome to the First Buck podcast, brought to you by sky's the We feature stories about entrepreneurs and the people who support them. Today we're joined by Raena Saddler, director of Product for Youth Wellbeing and Equity at Meta formerly Facebook, where she leads teams to focus on making Meta's products more equitable and inclusive and supporting teams to have a positive, safe and an age appropriate experience online. Prior to this role, she was VP of product and managing director at Cheryl Sandberg's Lean in Foundation. In her more than six years there, she helped develop initiatives that raise awareness on critical issues to advancing women at work and develop programs to help companies build equitable and inclusive workspaces. Raena holds a bachelor's degree from Stanford University and a master's degree from Harvard Divinity School and Religion Ethics and Politics. She's passionate about driving social change on issues impacting communities of color and lives in the Bay Area with our partner, three daughters and two dogs. We are super excited to have Raena on the podcast today. Raena, we have a little tradition around here. So our first question is, how did you earn your first buck?

Raena Saddler  2:56

Well, first, thanks for having me. I'm really excited to do this. Okay, so my first buck, I mean if we're talking first government buck, government taxed buck, that one I think came from working at the very illustrious Ann Taylor factory store, which was at Colorado Mills Mall, Nic, which you would be familiar with. And I actually worked in the stock room so I wasn't good enough to be out on the floor. I opened the boxes, unwrapped and steamed the clothes and folded them so that they would be ready to go out to the people who go on the floor. And I think I made eight 50 an hour pre-tax in that

Nicolas Cary  3:35  

I did not know that story. All right, good to know. And your first under the table buck before that was how we all start off there. I

Raena Saddler  3:42  

Mean, I've got to think it's like babysitting. I babysat a lot through high school and made more than eight 50 an hour and it was not text. So

Nicolas Cary  3:51  

It's funny that babysitting is such a common one, and it's also, if you think about it, just such an extraordinary responsibility. Your first job is to literally take care of other human beings in their lives. And I think we don't think about it too much when we do it, but it's just amazing that that's sort of where it all begins. And I love hearing people's first book stories. We all really kind of start off as entrepreneurs and then our careers take different paths and all kinds of things change. But we're super interested to learn a bit about your career, especially since it's been so remarkable. So tell us a little bit about after going to university, what were sort of the pivotal moments that helped you evolve and grow into more and more responsibility?

Raena Saddler  4:34  

So I started my career. I mean, I'll start with working in tech, which I had a good friend who was an engineer at a tech company. He got a great job out of college and I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do after college, and I knew I needed to stay in the Bay Area another year. And he was like, you know what you should do? You should come and be a community manager at my company. They answer support emails, they answer help tickets, you should come interview there. So I went, did that, got that job. Really liked just the vibe of the company being in a small startup environment, the community feel to it. And then I had already gotten into divinity school, all great tech folks go to, and so I went to that program, but I continued to work for this tech company as a community manager, but just worked there remotely.

And then when I graduated, I wasn't sure do I want to go into academia? I realized I don't actually love reading and I really liked tech. And so the CEO called me up and said, Hey, you work really great with the engineers and everyone who's here, can you come and be our first product manager here I am Google's product manager. What is product manager? I think it was like 2010. And there wasn't a ton of information out about it. I had no idea what I was doing, but I feel like I really lucked into that opportunity because I always tell people, I get a lot of incoming from people who are wondering how do I get into product management? And getting that first PM job is really the hardest thing. So a lot of times the easiest way is to actually find someone who really believes in your skills and will invest in you and sponsor you to kind of become the product manager, which is what happened with me.

So I worked there in product for a few years. I really wanted to get more mission oriented or closer to more mission oriented work. And this is a whole separate story, but I had met Cheryl Sandberg in 2011 at a restaurant in la. And so I got an email blast from her saying that her foundation was hiring for product manager. And I was like, this is right up my alley. I really liked the mission, I really liked a lot of the things that she was talking about in her book because by that time her book and foundation had come out and so applied for that job and got it. And I think actually all the pivotal moments for me really came from, I would say maybe not me, but more from leaders who saw in me more than really what I saw in myself and who kind of pulled me into opportunities that I often didn't even know existed or wasn't thinking about.

So I started there in product and then Cheryl and then also the CEO of the foundation kept pulling me forward to other versions of the role. So I ended up leading product and also people operations, operations in general and a little bit of programs. And so fast forward a little bit to 2020, one of my old colleagues had moved on to Facebook, heard that a role for a product manager who was really familiar with DEI thinking, thinking about how to apply concepts of equity and inclusion to core products was coming up and had me recruited for that role and I just couldn't turn it down. And so I've been at Facebook now called Meta for three years now, and I started focusing on product equity and inclusion thinking through how do we embed equity inclusion principles into our core products. And then earlier this year started also working on teen wellbeing. So how do we think about providing teens with safe positive experiences online? But I think the real theme is surrounding myself with mentors, sponsors, people around me who know what I'm good at. I'm not someone who has a good sense of what I'm good at. And so I have had a lot of luck having other people identify good opportunities for me.

Nicolas Cary  8:14  

I love the scaffolding of that story. And a lot of PMs start off customer facing because they learn all these challenges and problems that the end users are ultimately experiencing that frankly, sometimes the engineers and the strategists aren't really hearing because they're not close enough to the problem set. And I think some of the best product managers start off basically interacting with customers and then refining that skill and finding people to give you those opportunities in your career is really huge. Let's talk a little bit about some of these initiatives that you're pioneering in the de and I space at Facebook. I mean, it's such a huge opportunity and role. How have you used maybe some of your social capital and made investments to persuade people about how to approach changing how software is designed, developed to be more inclusive? Talk to us a little bit about that.

Raena Saddler  9:07  

Great question. So I think there's kind of two parts to this question. One is how to leverage social capital and then the other is influencing them to get outcomes that aren't immediately associated with the business priorities. And so I'll handle the second one first, which is I actually think the best approach and one that we use often for both. I mean I'm in the central social impact org, so we're a central organization. We don't own a platform or a service. We will partner really closely with Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, et cetera, but we drive what's the company-wide strategy and approach going to be for this space. And so for us when we were approaching equity, and it's the same with Team Wellbeing, you've got to find and really understand what is your stakeholder care about? What does the business care about? What is the business priority and how does what we're trying to accomplish ladder into instead of pull focus away from that business priority.

So thinking about that with the concept of product equity, I mean we had a lot of momentum after 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. But even moving away from that positioning it not just as something that's really good for the company to do, but something that's actually existential for the company where it's 20, it's almost 2024 in 20, 20 40, that's the year when minorities are communities that have been minoritized are going to be the majority. So it's actually existential for the company to be building good products for communities from historically marginalized communities. It's not just like a niche thing that we should be doing because it's good for the world. It is that and it's actually advantageous to the business. So finding those points of intersection between what the business ultimately wants and is trying to do and what you're trying to do has been really helpful for me.And then on the social capital side, I think relationships are everything. I'm a very relational person, but I think coming at those relationships with a place of authenticity is really important. So establishing relationships with other people and understanding what are they trying to accomplish and how can I help them? I try really hard to just come at those with no agenda, figure out how can I be helpful to someone whether I need something out of that or not. I think that's just how you form good and healthy and authentic relationships. And so a lot of times once you can build on those relationships, use them to have conversations with people because a lot of times when you're helping them do something they want, they often are interested in you and return and wondering how can I help you accomplish what you're trying to do? I think that mix of finding the business priorities and then building on relationships that you have, it makes it easy to bring those narratives together and help other people see points of intersection from your partner in business, your partner in partnerships, your person in policy of how do we weave these things together to all tell one story about how this is a strong path forward for the business.

Nicolas Cary  11:59  

What advice would you have for young adults or sort of the early stages of their career? It's changed a bit, finding a job I think over the last 10, 15, 20 years. How can they sort of position themselves well to enter the workforce?

Raena Saddler  12:16  

I started with my career journey in tech, but my first job out of college, I actually worked for a church. I spent college, I didn't do any internships. I went to Stanford as you mentioned earlier, but there were a lot of peers I had who were doing a Mayfield fellowship or they were interning at Twitter and Google. And in my head I would hear that and be like, I wonder how they got that. And then I would go babysit, I would do babysitting. That was my job through college. I worked in a cafe and college and I didn't really know to seek those kinds of opportunities. And then when I was at the foundation, I was really intentional about figuring out, okay, how can I hire college interns? How can I help advance people's careers who are already thinking about that? And so I think actually now there's tons of tools and ways you can reach out to people on LinkedIn.

I get outreach like this occasionally from people who are interested in my career path or my company or learning more about business. So there's tons of tools you can use now and I really encourage people to do them. And again, drawing out my advice from earlier, reaching out from a place of authenticity, not like, Hey, can I connect with you and pick your brain? But like, Hey, I looked at your background. I'm really interested in how you've done this. Here's things I'm passionate about. Are you willing to connect with me and I want to just learn a little bit more about your industry? Or do you have someone that you recommend I connect with? Things like that. I think networking and finding authentic intersections with other people so that you can learn more about what's out there, learn more about job openings, and then those people can also keep you in mind when they are hiring or their companies are hiring or they can get you in touch with their recruiting teams as well.

Nicolas Cary  13:51  

I think that point to be authentic is so critical. I've highlighted that and I hope it will resonate to the listeners because that's how you build trust. You find conversations that are just elevated, individuals speak fluently about where their weaknesses are, where they can seek improvement. And I think that if you want to find great friendships in life, great mentors, great teachers, approaching them all with that base of authenticity is so critical.

Raena Saddler  14:22  

I agree. And just to draw on that a little bit, actually, I mentioned I get outreach every now and then for people who want to connect, but it's the ones who embed their personal stories into it that really resonate with me. So don't be afraid as you all are reaching out to the people to draw on your personal background. You don't have to think of some job or professional experience you've had that's related to that person. Sometimes it can be, Hey, I saw that you're from Colorado and St. Louis, or I saw that you're a mixed woman. I'm also a mixed woman. Finding points of intersection no matter what they are. Don't feel afraid to draw on your personal experiences because a lot of times people they can remember back to when they were your age and thinking about things like you. And so yeah, I think there's people feel pressure to have some kind of other professional value they're adding to the conversation, and I don't think anyone expects that from somebody who's really early in their career.

Nicolas Cary  15:16  

So let's dig a little bit deeper here. Who would you say was the most important mentor in your career and what made them special and helpful to you?

Raena Saddler  15:30  

I don't know if I can point to any one mentor. And I mean, I think my thought here is that careers are pretty long and they go through a lot of different phases. There's been kind of pivotal moments where I got a key piece of advice that reframed how I think about myself as a leader, but I've had, and I will get to that one, but I've had multiple, I think at each kind of place I've been and worked. I had one primary mentor who as I mentioned earlier, moved me through different positions and elevated me and helped bring out in me more than I would've achieved on my own. So I think it's actually really important to not look for that one holy grail of mentor who's going to be everything to you for the rest of your career, but someone who has something to offer and somebody who is going to invest in you and that you're going to invest back in.

And that can be multiple different people at different points of life. And so my first one was my first CEO who kind of pulled me into product and saw me that I could do this. And then when I was thinking about taking a community manager job at another company, he was like, no, I made you a product manager. Stay in product. You don't understand what you're doing. And then after that, honestly, a really formative mentor for me was Deb Liu. She's a great product leader. She was one of the most, I met her at a happy hour and I noticed that she just radiated this positivity and this servant leadership that I really liked. And so I knew someone who knew her and I said, Hey, can you connect us? And I'd love to just learn more about what it is to be a product manager.

And I was a young mom. I have three kids. My oldest just turned 13, and I didn't know any product managers, moms who were working full-time at kind of a high intensity job. And so I learned a ton from her just about how to be the leader that I want to be and how to balance working and being a mom. And then of course, I was really, really fortunate to work for Cheryl Sandberg for many years and just learned a ton about her. And I think actually she gave me the most formative advice that I've ever gotten, which was I had noticed things that were happening at the foundation or things that were patterns in the community that as a woman of color and as the senior most woman of color at the foundation, I really thought we should focus on and brought those to her.

And she was like, you know what you really need to do right now? She's like, great, thank you. That's all really good feedback. Thank you. I've got to take that on board. And what you really need to start doing is solve the problem that you're raising to me in the moment or find ways that you can start solving them. And the minute that she was like, the more that you solve the problems in the moment, the more one day you're going to see yourself running the actual organization. And I think that was really formative for me because I thought that my value came from me pointing out problems being like, you don't see this. Look at this problem over here. And she's like, that is great, thank you. That is a skill. But I think I didn't see how much I was stopping short of my own agency and my own ability to address or start solving those problems. And she helped me see one, I'll empower you and let's actually get you in a role where you can start focusing on people operations and building those and you could actually do more here and empower the people around you to solve more of those problems. You don't have to wait for permission to solve problems. And that was a huge mindset shift for me and really made me a more proactive problem solver.

Nicolas Cary  19:02  

Wow, what a cool way to provoke that out of you. And that's such a powerful thing to be like, I've heard everything you just said and you should just get on with fixing those problems. And there was a famous, I think I was watching sort of episode of a podcast with, who was it? It was Jeff Bezos, and he was like, the stresses whatever is stressing you out, just work on the problem. And then the stress changes. And it's sort of the same thing, which is if you see the obstacles in life as these overcoming problems that you can never get through, it'll be difficult. But if you see the obstacles as the pathway to personal growth as these things that you can take apart and solve and fix and you develop some confidence doing those things, what that does for your self-esteem for career is incredible. And especially senior leaders are looking for that because it helps them so much. So I love that story about Cheryl. That's a cool one. Thank you for sharing that. Okay, so you've hired a decent number of people in your career. Talk to us a little bit about how you think about building teams and maybe if you have a favorite interview question, but what are some of the lessons that you've learned as you've progressed in your career?

Raena Saddler  20:20  

So I mentioned this a lot. I think proactive problem solving is a huge skill. And I do think early on in your career you sort of think, I take direction from other people. They are the ones who are accountable for solving problems, and I will get them to solve the problem. One thing I've really come to value is that proactive problem solving. The ability to drive clarity from ambiguity. People who index high on what I would extreme ownership. It takes a little while to foster your own understanding of your own agency. And even now, mid-career, I'm still every year learning new, peeling back a new layer of what it means to really own and drive something. But I love building teams where people really feel empowered and have high agency to understand what are they responsible for and how can I really push that to its limit.

And I think one trickier is making sure you're really thinking about, I think inclusion and belonging really goes with that. I think you get the best and most out of people when they really feel like they can bring their whole selves to work and where they feel safe to raise problems as they see them suggest solutions to things that are maybe a little outside of their lane. But one of the biggest interview questions I like to ask people actually is around, Hey, what's, what kind of feedback do you get from people who work closely with you and what are you working on right now? And I like to hear from them. Again, I'm looking for authenticity, a little bit of humility and an understanding that everybody's working on something every now and then. No, I'm

Nicolas Cary  21:58  


Raena Saddle 21:59  

Yeah, no, I work too hard. I care too much.

Nic Cary  22:03  

That's always a nonsense answer. Oh, people just say, I worked too hard.

Raena Saddler  22:07  

I just am the best is the problem. So yeah. So I really think looking, I look for people who are going to bring that humility to a dynamic and who are always looking to better themselves. And so I also like to ask this question because I think people go into interviews really hoping some aspect of their knowledge or their selves can shine. And then you're kind of at the mercy of the interview question. So I always like to end interviews with, this is actually something that I got from another mentor who is the CEO of the foundation. She asked me this when I was interviewing. She said, what's something you wish had come up that we didn't get to talk about? Something that you want to share? And so I always try and do that to get an understanding of what did this candidate really want to make sure came through?

Nicolas Cary  22:52  

That's great. I like both of those. And I think it demonstrates that someone is introspective about how they can improve. And then also, I have a similar one, which is I frequently ask people to teach me something they know a lot about. I don't care what it is, whether it's spearfishing or raising a kid or how to make cider love, whatever. But because I have to have confidence that this person can communicate ideas and basically help educate people around them to get their ideas cultivated within the organization. But I think it's kind of in the same vein, love. All right. I'm going to ask one more question. And I think one of the interesting things we've learned at is that a lot of our community members feel that they don't have enough role models to look up to, whether that's in beginning their careers or starting a company. And so I wanted to ask you, as a mom with three young kiddos, what are some tips or advice for the many moms out there that are sort of struggling with the work-life balance and maybe trying to navigate their careers or even starting their own businesses? What are some things that you would share with them that you have been able to help in your career?

Raena Saddler  24:21  

Oh, that's a great question. I've never been asked that before. I got this advice. I was transparently just really struggling as a working mom going into tech and working full time. And it was at the time when now Lean In and many, many other wonderful books and articles have been written about being a full-time mom. But at the time, it wasn't really a part of the main conversation. And I would go home and I had missed most of my first daughter's day, and I was working at a startup, and I just felt so sad. I really love my kids and being around them, and it was hard for me to be working so much. And I had this moment where I was feeling like maybe I'm not cut out for working full time. I don't know if I can do this. I'm very Midwestern at heart and just love simplicity and family life in that way.

And I talked to a woman, her name is Selena Tobacco Wallace. She's an amazing product leader as well. And I was asking her, how do you do it? And she gave me this advice, which was, she said, I identify what are the things that really make me feel most like a true mom? She was like, for me, that might, it's really important for me to do drop-offs and pickups with my kids at school. And that might actually not be important to you at all. It might be like I'm at the field trips. It might be I do the tuck-ins, I'm doing this. But figure out what are those things that are truly additive to you and important to you? And be ruthless about carving out time for those things. And then also be ruthless about not prioritizing the things that aren't as meaningful to you and your kids.

And that was really helpful and freeing for me because one you do, I mean, I'm someone who, I got you probably two tons of meetings. I live by my calendar, so I've got to go through my calendar each week and put first in what are the times like, okay, I just got an email yesterday. My daughter's getting some kind of award at a assembly on Friday at nine 30. I got to put that in the calendar. That's going to be 30. That's going to mean a lot to her. It's going to mean a lot to me to get to be there. And everything else can be arranged around that. So it's figuring out what are those things that are really important to me, prioritizing those first. Because another piece of advice I got that I think is really important is that there's the things that people will read in your eulogy and say about you, and then there's your resume attributes.

I love that. Nobody, oh, sorry, the light just went off in my room. But nobody really cares about your resume attributes. What people are really going to remember about you and what your kids are going to remember about you is how you made them feel and what your week to week was like. And so that's really helped me anchor in what's important to me. Not everything is important. I had to let go of, I am not a stay at home mom. I also don't work. So there are choices I have made that I am still liking and happy with about how I'm going to spend my time, but I got to make sure that the time I do spend, I'm really present, I'm really there and that it's meaningful. And so I would encourage folks who are listening to think about that. And then also, there's some really great leaders and books out there that you could read, and you can reach out to me on LinkedIn and I can send you a couple of things too.

Nicolas Cary  27:39  

All right. Well, that's a great invitation, and thank you for sharing those perspectives. I think I could learn from some of those. The Road to Character was a book written by David Brooks,

Raena Saddler  27:51  

David Brooks, I, yes. I just started

Nicolas Cary  27:53  

Listen, so good. And he has this whole chapter on the importance of these eulogy virtues. And it's sort of not obvious right away because we're sort of taught you need to get the medals, you need to get the perfect grades, you need to get all of the extracurriculars on your resume. And only then achievements, achievements, achievements are necessary to succeed. And there's that stuff will not matter at the very end. And it is about the relationships, those authentic ones that you've invested in over the course of your career in your life that really, really matter. And so I wrote down a few things I wanted to summarize for the listeners because some extraordinary pearls of wisdom in here, but if I took away anything, I think the reminder to approach our relationships and our careers with that authenticity is so important to seek out role models and to find those mentors.

It can be pivotal agents and giving us feedback across our careers, women like Cheryl and Deb and Selena and others. For you, it sounds like you've had a real bench of support, which is amazing. And then finally, I think having that confidence to not just identify problems, but you practice doing that too, but actually then working on solving that problem in the moment once you've discovered it and you can move on from solving little problems to bigger problems, and at the end of the day, you'll have solved a collection of problems and then you keep doing that and you'll get better and better at it. So I want to thank Rena for coming on the podcast today with a lot of great advice. And thank you for being authentic with us. At Skys, we connect underrepresented entrepreneurs with volunteer business professionals for free. one-on-one mentoring. We also provide business guides to all our members, plus monthly funding opportunities via our grant making system. So please sign up for free today, and if you like what you heard, you can subscribe and share this podcast. Thank you very much.

Raena Saddler  29:47  

Thank you.

Outro  29:48  

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