Jen Swanson

Member Spotlight

Introduce yourself to our audience. Tell us who you are and what you are currently focused on.

Currently, my work role is that of Senior Director of Digital Product Management at Optum, which is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group. I lead a team of product managers that build digital capabilities that are used by consumers across all of our health and wellness products. I’m also a mom of 2 boys, ages 6 & 9, a wife and partner to my husband (who works in the same field), and on the side I write, speak, and support women in my network on the issue of women in leadership and the gender gap for women in business and technology, through my blog at www.imbina.com. If that’s not enough, I’m also starting to explore some side hustles in personal consulting (coaching) and other areas of interest to me. Networking and attending Ellevate events have been helping me tremendously on this front!

What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in your line of work?

Digital Product Management sits between business and IT, and requires that you are fluent in both fields and are able to navigate, translate, and negotiate between the two while keeping the customer’s needs, wants, and best interests at heart. I believe that technical and business partners genuinely want what’s best for the customer, but it can get lost in the constraints and demands of their areas and sometimes “shiny object” syndrome can distract from creating value for the customer. In my view, the most successful product managers are people who can look at a seemingly disparate list of needs, wants, and constraints and can find a creative solution that meets the most critical of those, and then is able to articulate that vision to their IT partners to bring it to life.

What is one of your most memorable career accomplishments?

Before I came to Optum, I worked for Children’s Minnesota, a pediatric hospital and clinic system here in the Twin Cities. As the Director of Digital Marketing, I led the redesign (which was actually a complete rebuild) of their website (www.childrensmn.org). We went from start to finish on this project in just under a year, including new brand work, content strategy and new information architecture, re-platforming the content management system, and then rebuilding and launching the site with robust analytics and reporting. Not only was this site a vast improvement for our patients and families (especially making it mobile responsive), it also completely transformed our staff’s ability to manage the site with minimal technical support. We even won some awards for the redesign, but the real satisfaction comes every time I pull the site up and navigate to information I’m looking for – because even though I don’t work there anymore, I still bring my family to Children’s whenever we need to!

We’d love to hear more about your career path. What led you to where you are today?

I’ve taken a very twisty path to where I am today. I have a BS in English and an MS in Higher Education, and my first job out of school was working for a small liberal arts college in residential life and campus activities. That transformed into a job in marketing for a software training company, based on my curiosity for technology and experience in event management. That curiosity, paired with strong marketing and communication skills, kept leading me to new jobs in for-profit education and healthcare, where I was also proud to be given opportunities to take on projects and roles in customer experience design, customer service delivery, and operations – always on the foundation of technology and digital experiences. I always said “yes!” to opportunities to work on some new part of the business, especially when it diverged from the core of whatever role I was in. This exposure, paired with my natural desire to go deep and learn as much as I can, led me to roles that didn’t exist when I was in school, and is a big reason why I am where I am today.

What would you say your personal superpower is?

I have a knack for being able to take in lots of details and inputs and am able to cut through and know the right path forward, and can articulate why and what we need to advance the project or idea. Others see a mess or get analysis paralysis, but I can pick out the right inputs and visualize the end state, then articulate how to get there.

What advice would you offer future leading ladies wishing to break into your industry?

People come into this field from IT (through roles like project management and business analyst), Marketing (marketing operations, analytics), business (product management), and Design (user experience design) – but the underlying understanding of and curiosity about technology and digital experiences is critical. Prove to your employer that you think about and care about the full end-to-end customer experience – from first hearing about a product all the way through to when they have a question or need help – and that will help identify where in the consumer experience you can bring the most value with your professional skills.

What is the best career advice you ever received?

No one cares as much about your career as you. If you’re waiting for someone to notice your contributions and promote you or pick you for the next project, either (a) it’s never going to happen because you’re not advocating for yourself, or (b) you’re going to get the opportunities YOU want, you’re going to get what someone else wants for you. Only you can truly be in the drivers’ seat – so take the wheel!

What is one piece of advice you’d offer working moms?

It’s really easy to be fragmented – we run our companies and meetings all day, rush home and then feel like we need to run our households when we get home. There is work to be done in both domains, for sure, but if you are always running the show you forget to be a part of it. Find a way to mark transitions between home and work so that you can be fully present in the way you want to be in each place. For example, listen to some leadership podcasts after you drop off at school and while you drive to work, to get in the “boss” mindset. On the way home, listen to your favorite music or a good fiction audio book to let go of your day and come home to be a part of your family dinner and evenings.

Tell us about your favorite Ellevate Network memory or success story. Why are you a member?

I’ve been attending Ellevate events in Minneapolis/St. Paul for about a year, though I have followed Sallie and Ellevate for years through social media. I join a lot of these kinds of groups given my interests, but Ellevate felt different right from the start. I loved that there was a built-in diversity of membership – corporate, entrepreneur, executive, small business, etc. – across all industries. It helped me get out of the same circles of industry- and profession-based groups I often find myself in.

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