Bridging Worlds: Meta’s Nicola Mendelsohn on Building a Global Pathway for Women in Business
Since the pandemic, we’ve witnessed a trail of women leaving their corporate jobs to pursue their passions and jumpstart independent business ideas. As the holiday season is quickly approaching, many shoppers are looking for opportunities to support these women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs. In an effort to spotlight female founders, Nicola Mendelsohn, VP of Global Business Group at Meta, is helping create business development opportunities for women taking the leap. Throughout the pandemic, Meta has launched and distributed over $100 million in global grants for small businesses, with a special focus for female business owners worldwide. Through programs like Meta Elevate, which serves rising entrepreneurs in marginalized communities, they’ve also dedicated funds towards helping diverse-led businesses grow. We’re spotlighting Nicola as she shares why it’s imperative we support them on a global scale and how women can take advantage of digital opportunities to transform their businesses.
Remington Bennett: How has your current role as VP of Global Business Group at Meta shaped your views on representation within the tech and advertising industries?
Nicola Mendelsohn: The issue of representation is absolutely crucial in all industries, but particularly in tech and advertising. When you build devices and products like we do, it’s crucial that you’ve got the most diverse teams possible to test them so that they work for every one of the 3.6 billion people who use our platforms. Which is why we prioritize diversity and inclusion at every level of our decision making. And it’s why we have very specific goals around DEI broadly and women’s advancement in particular. So, as an industry and as a company, I do think we’ve made progress. But there are still a lot of subtle biases that are holding women back. We see it in the research; women leaders are often interrupted or spoken over more than men. Women have a harder time accessing capital to start businesses. Even the pandemic disproportionately impacted women. In our survey on Gender Equality at Home, women were more likely than men to report spending time on domestic tasks or family care activities – and more likely than men to report feeling more stressed as a result of the pandemic.
We need a sense of urgency around this. The world isn’t tracking to reach our equality goals anytime soon. Everybody, including men, needs to be part of the solution. We all need to do a better job elevating and supporting women, and I’m proud to work at Meta because we’re always trying to ensure there are many meaningful paths to success for women to advance their goals and do the best work of their careers. More than a third of our senior leaders are women. We’ve also doubled the number of women in our global workforce, and it’s our goal that by 2024, 50% of our workforce will be women globally.
RB: What skills have you acquired through working with people from different cultural backgrounds? How has it motivated you?
NM: I get to travel a lot for my job and meet people from different backgrounds. And being able to hear from and work with different people across a range of perspectives is invaluable. Every market is unique, and different teams deserve to be heard in a way that is true and authentic to them and their particular needs and challenges. And it pays dividends. Nearly half the world’s population uses our platforms, so it’s imperative that we take into account a wide range of perspectives as we build services and that the people building them are as diverse as the people using them, too.
RB: In 2016, you and your team kickstarted the #SheMeansBusiness program supporting female entrepreneurs. What are some key traits that successful founders have when developing their businesses?
NM: In my experience, successful founders have a vision, plus the ability to work by themselves and be a jack of all trades. And they are comfortable with risk. I’m actually starting a new video series on female founders that really digs into the experience of what it means to be a female entrepreneur. I recently interviewed Claire Hornby, who’s the founder of a UK-based clothing brand called ME+EM. When I asked her about what being a female founder meant to her, she said it meant confidence: growing in confidence herself and helping impart it to other women via her clothes. I’ve also recently talked with a woman in Singapore who started a really popular lifestyle brand that’s looking to expand beyond Asia. These amazing women have so many nuggets of wisdom and I shouldn’t be the only one to hear all of them– so tune in to hear what they have to say.
RB: In the past, you’ve addressed how women are disadvantaged when it comes to financial literacy. What suggestions do you have for women who want to generate wealth for themselves and their businesses but don’t know where to start?
NM: Thankfully, the barriers to starting a business today are significantly reduced from what they used to be. Thanks to the growth of online commerce, thousands of women from around the world can now set up businesses with just a mobile phone in their hand. Thanks to platforms like Instagram and Facebook, you no longer need a physical storefront. Nor do you need deep pockets to compete with TV or newspaper ads. As long as you have an internet connection you can pop up a shop on our platforms, and for just a few dollars you can reach thousands of people with your ads. A handful of years ago that wouldn’t have been possible. And what we are finding is that women who are leaning into digital tools are benefitting from them. To your point about financial literacy, it’s an important part of any entrepreneur’s learning journey. And the good news is, there are lots of online resources. For example, as part of the #SheMeansBusiness program hub, there’s a whole area dedicated to financial literacy and lots of inspiring case studies featuring women who have navigated similar issues beforehand to help and inspire you as well. To date, we’ve been able to train over 1 million women in 38 markets and we hope to continue growing that number.
RB: How do you think investing in small woman-owned businesses specifically impacts our digital economy?
NM: It’s critical. I was on a panel earlier this summer talking about the benefits of investing in women-owned businesses and one of the panelists pointed out that: Women owned SMBs return 2x in investment terms than men. And women-led businesses reinvest more of their proceeds in their community than men. So we need people to make these investments – both in dollars and in training. With results like that, investing in women is simply sound business sense. One thing we’re seeing, as well, is that female-led businesses are using digital tools at a higher rate and generating more online sales revenue than small businesses led by men. Here’s a stat for you: Our recent small business survey shows that 48% of U.S. women-led small businesses on Facebook report making at least 25% of their sales through digital channels in the last month, compared to 36% of men-led SMBs. I’m encouraged that even though women have been disproportionately impacted through the pandemic and have faced higher closure rates, they are embracing digital tools to generate more sales for their businesses.
RB: I want to bring this back to you and your journey. Is there a woman in business you would say is your biggest inspiration? If so, who and why?
NM: I’m lucky because I have lots of women who inspire me. I’m going to start with family: my mother and my grandmother were both hard workers, and they showed me that it’s possible to live a life full of both personal and professional satisfaction. My daughter, Gabbi, inspires me everyday. I couldn’t be prouder of the work she’s doing in educational technology. I would be remiss not to mention Sheryl Sandberg, our former COO, who has been a friend, mentor, and inspiration to me since the day I met her. She’s definitely played an important part in who I am.
RB: What is a piece of advice that you wish you could have received when you were first starting your career?
NM: Expect the unexpected. Let’s go back to 2019. There wasn’t a person on the planet that would have put an imminent global pandemic on their risk assessment radar. Or all the subsequent shocks that have followed. And it speaks to the fact that we need to stay flexible and agile. The best leaders these days are able to pivot, make quick decisions, and stay nimble with their thinking. This is a muscle we all need to strengthen – both in our professional lives and in our personal lives. For example, in 2016, I was diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma, which is an incurable blood cancer. Thankfully, thanks to treatments I now have no evidence of it. But It was devastating news, as you can imagine. However rather than letting it get the best of me, I tried to move forward with things that I was able to control. I founded a charity called the Follicular Lymphoma Foundation, which is the first charity in the world focused solely on finding a cure for the disease. And we’re now funding big bets on cures. I’ve found that doing what you can and controlling what you can control stops you from agonizing and helps you to move forward as best you can. Leaders are only human, so you make the best decisions with the best information, and then you move forward and do it all with empathy.