QUORUM: An Online Community Empowering Women to Author their Own Narratives
Jackie DeJesse has known the value of stories since she was a child. Her family’s saga has become legend and serves as the primary inspiration for Quorum. She honed her own storytelling skills as a photographer and now as a product manager, where she zealously seeks to understand users and represent them within her teams. Quorum is the natural continuation of her work to bring awareness to the challenges and triumphs that we each experience so that we can be understood and validated. Outside of her work as a product manager and founder of Quorum, you can find her mentoring future STEM leaders and cycling throughout the 5 boroughs enjoying the beauty of New York City.
How did you break into Product Management?
I completed university with a desire to combine my love for the creative and analytical. I didn’t know anyone who worked in tech and it wasn’t discussed by career counselors at the time, so it wasn’t on my radar. My grandparents gifted me a DSLR for my graduation and I got to work learning all things Photoshop and digital photography (I worked exclusively in the darkroom in school as a fine art minor). I went on to launch my own business and began shooting everything from portraits to food. The latter exposed me to a startup that wanted to build a visual search engine for food (i.e. be able to see all of the pancakes near you that you could order). I began working for them first as a photographer and then as a brand manager. It was through my role managing other photographers that I realized how bad our CMS was for uploading and managing menu photos. I sketched wireframes and brought them to our CTO to see if we could make it simpler to both reduce headaches and costs. The solution cut our average upload and management times from 3 hours to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I was attending Meetups and learning more about this field called Product Management. Through listening to talks and our CTO encouraging me to try it out, I began taking on more product-like work. Soon enough, I was hooked.
Something that is really evident throughout your journey is your desire to create social impact. What do you think is wrong with our current system and how can we use diverse voices to effect change?
This is a tough one! There’s so much opportunity to rebuild the foundations of our society so that it works well for everyone. Our country was founded by people who had a vested interest in having a hierarchical society and we’ve carried that forward, intentionally or not.
When I reflect on our most pressing problems, I continue to return to justice (environmental, social, racial) and equity. Both of these values depend on having people from all backgrounds at the table making decisions. Each of us has our own set of experiences that make us experts in our respective histories.
Someone who grew up in the Inland Empire of Southern California, the site of over 150M square feet of warehouses, likely has something to say about environmental justice due to the impact of truck exhaust on local wellbeing. While anyone from an underrepresented group can speak up about equity across a distinct axis. Diversity is key to forming a comprehensive approach that doesn’t bias towards a dominant voice. It’s key to apply this in all forums. The feminist movement is actually a good example of a progressive effort that failed to champion all women and instead biased towards white feminism. Moving forward, we all need to possess enough self-awareness to ask who isn’t in the room and who should be?
You recently founded Quorum- an organization that amplifies women’s voices. Can you share your inspiration behind this idea and how it works?
My sister and I were raised by a single mom and we personally witnessed the challenges that she faced as a mother and as a professional (she’s a structural engineer in an extremely male-dominated industry). Regardless of what she was going through, she gave us everything and she also gave to the community. I was taught gratitude and the importance of lifting others alongside you and have done what I can to mentor young women over the last several years, but I’d always wanted to do more. At the start of the pandemic I felt helpless and frankly, guilty that I wasn’t able to do more as I saw people’s livelihoods disappear and their physical and emotional wellbeing threatened. The pandemic has had a tremendously harmful impact on women and I realized that this was the time for me to act.
Our stories are what give us power and I wanted to find a way to amplify the experiences of the women around me. Through listening and understanding, we can begin to reverse existing power structures and reclaim what is ours.
Quorum features story collections alongside candles that each benefit a unique nonprofit. Through the stories, you can learn about people who you may never have had the chance to meet up until this point. The stories also include special anecdotes from the storyteller. I decided upon candles because they are comforting in darkness and celebratory in moments of levity. Plus, they’re loud and noticeable. They’re designed to stand out on your table, to spark conversation, to gift someone and say ‘I see you’.
What are some core values of Quorum?
Bold, Present, Loud!, Real, Inclusive
As a female founder and leader in technology, what are some challenges you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?
I’ve worked in really toxic work environments that largely stemmed from unclear hierarchies. Lots of people felt threatened and as a result, they lashed out towards one another rather than reaching out to collaborate. As someone who truly wants to just build value for our users, I had a really hard time there because me going out of my way to improve something in our copywriting was viewed as a threat to someone else. Sometimes you have to realize when it is best to stay in your lane and focus on what you can accomplish within your realm.
What are some of your best work productivity hacks?
I try to start each week with a list of 3 (this seems to be the magic number) accomplishable goals. These need to be realistic so that they’re motivating (i.e. not ‘ship X product’). While simple, this list helps me stay focused, even when there’s a firehose of other todos coming down the pipeline.
I really try to use project management software, but I almost always come back to Post Its. They’re how I track all of my immediate to dos. Sometimes it’s just easiest to keep it simple.
Block off time for myself! This is a must now that I’m working from home. Otherwise I would literally never get out of my chair between meetings. I put a block on my entire Friday and have no qualms about moving non-urgent meetings that people book to the following week. 99 times out of 100 it’s totally fine. Usually by Wednesday I look to my next week and begin putting other work blocks down so that folks don’t fill them with meetings. There seems to be some law out there where if there are empty spaces on a calendar they must be filled with meetings. This helps me get stuff done and is ultimately about self respect. I value my time and by valuing these blocks, other people also learn to respect my time.
Products by Women is a global professional network for women in innovation, tech, and beyond. The network offers women the opportunity to connect and learn from peers from around the world, find jobs beyond borders, and get matched with recruiters and mentors to accelerate their career.
Products by Women was founded in 2019 and was formerly called New York Women in Product Management (NYWPM). The network has now expanded virtually across the US, India, Canada, Singapore, Amsterdam, UK, and more… and is now a diverse community where women can connect, innovate, exchange ideas and make some deep friendships along the way.
In less than a year Products by Women has partnered with organization and speakers from Glossier, Forbes, Etsy, Amazon, Audible, Squarespace, Columbia University, OXO, Compass, and many more small to medium-sized companies and start-ups from all over the world.
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