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Opinion: Nicola Mendelsohn, VP EMEA of Facebook, on diversity in business


By Nicola Mendelsohn, VP EMEA, Facebook

As a senior woman in tech, a proud Jewish Mancunian and mother of four, making progress on diversity matters to me. 

It also matters to Facebook, as people from all backgrounds rely on our platform to connect with others. We serve the needs of that global community better with a diverse workforce. If everyone at Facebook looked, sounded and thought the same, we’d all approach problems in the same way and come to the same solutions. Hardly conducive to innovation. 

Diversity is critical to our success, to any business’ success, so we’re asking ourselves a fundamental question: how can we ensure our teams and systems are not biased in ways that treat people unfairly? Any business can hire someone from an underrepresented group, look back at their diversity report and pat themselves on the back for a job well done. But to instigate real change and ensure that your diverse workforce is happy, healthy and thriving for the long-term you have to rip up the foundations and start again. So that’s exactly what we’re doing, and we’ll be reflecting on how far we’ve come and what still needs to be done this International Women’s Day. 

Beyond the work we’re doing internally, we’re working hard to leverage our reach and to inspire diversity in our own industry and others. This is clearly more than a binary male vs. female discussion, but it’s an uncomfortable truth that over a century after women’s suffrage in the UK our culture is still hard-wired against women in leadership roles. This is madness when we know that companies with a diverse leadership perform better and are more innovative. Last year, the London Annual Business Survey concluded that ‘culturally diverse leadership teams were more likely to develop new products than those with homogenous leadership’. 

That’s why in 2016 we launched our #SheMeansBusiness programme to give entrepreneurial women the confidence and digital skills they need to succeed. Together with the Federation of Small Businesses, Enterprise Nation and AllBright we’ve now trained over 20,000 women in the UK by providing them with the tools, networks and know-how to start and grow a business. We’ve also launched tools like our Community Finder, which allows female entrepreneurs to connect with each other to share questions, resources and support. Why is this important? Because our research shows that if the one in five women in the UK who want to start their own business did so, they’d unlock £10bn for the UK economy.

Quite apart from the direct economic value, diversifying our start-up scene can also teach us all a thing or two – businesses big and small – about the potential of technology for growth. When big and small businesses work together great things can happen. There are so many fantastic examples of start-ups who have grown their business by using digital platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, helping them reach a global audience. Digital natives like Jo Tutchener-Sharp, Founder of kid’s clothing brand Scamp & Dude, a #SheMeansBusiness graduate, have plenty to teach more traditional businesses on how to be agile and build personal connections with target audiences.

And an important part of my role is to return the favour and show small businesspeople like Jo how to get the most out of our platforms. Research we did with Morning Consult recently showed that over half of small businesses in Europe credit Facebook for helping them find new customers, increase revenue and hire more employees. As with diversity, sometimes businesses need to see it to be it, and I’m dedicated to finding and sharing more success stories like Jo’s that can inspire us all. 

This is my fifth International Women’s Day at Facebook and I’m looking forward to a jam-packed programme of events shining a light on Changemakers who’ve relentlessly driven positive change for women. But I’m most looking forward to the hard work that kicks in when the celebrations are over. Because as the century since suffrage has taught us, diversity and inclusion is a continuous effort, not a box to be ticked. We need to continue this programme into 2019 and celebrate a diverse range of Changemakers who are putting themselves forward, and giving others the confidence to tackle global issues together and the inspiration to grow smarter. Being a senior woman in tech shouldn’t be notable. I believe by working with and inspiring each other, we can truly bring that change within closer reach. We all have the potential, even the duty, to be Changemakers.