IN 2016, IT IS STILL EARLY TO TALK ABOUT GENDER EQUALITY ACHIEVED: in most countries, women still earn less than men for similar work. We spoke with Nicola Mendelssohn, Facebook VP EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), about her career path, fighting prejudice, and how business owners can help mothers.
YOU work in the Internet field, which is changing at a cosmic speed. How have your tasks changed during this time?
I have been working here for three and a half years. I joined the company when Facebook was at its peak. Then it was used mainly from computers, but today it is already a whole family of applications and services (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, Oculus), including mobile. With 1.7 billion people logging on to Facebook every day, we're working hard to match our workforce to the diversity of people who use Facebook every day. Everything is becoming more diverse - and this, of course, affects my work as well.
you are regularly listed as the most powerful women. Do you think women have become more confident in leadership positions by 2016?
Before coming to the interview, I studied information about women in Russia. I was amazed by the results of the Grant Thornton study: according to him, more
45% of women doing business in Russia hold high positions or run companies. It's fine! And much better than in my native UK. I think confidence is incredibly important for women in business. It is easy to say, “You need to be more confident in yourself,” but it is difficult to achieve this. I think confidence comes with time and experience. Even an unpleasant experience can help you become better: you can learn from it so that you can act more confidently next time. When faced with a similar situation again, you will already think differently.
I remember the beginning of my career, when my salary was raised for the first time. I didn't prepare for the conversation, so when I was offered a very small salary increase, I was so happy that I simply said, "Thank you!" But now I know that my male colleagues studied the situation in advance. During the discussion, they called a specific figure, and if it did not suit them, then they asked for more. And it comes with confidence. I think you are learning in the process.
DO YOU HAVE ROLE MODELS IN BUSINESS AND WHY?
I was lucky to grow up with my mother and grandmother who worked, so from a very young age I looked up to them. Working women, two generations older than me, was very unusual in Manchester where I grew up. My mom is still at work - she runs a catering and party company. My late grandmother owned a small business selling fabrics.
My first advisors and helpers were my family and my teachers. These people helped me become myself. This is not much different from big business: you put together a board of directors from different industries so that experts can give you recommendations. All my life, at various stages of my career, I have adhered to this principle, listening to others to become better. Not necessarily people who agree with you, and not just those you know well. Those who challenge you also help and sometimes say things that are not easy to hear. You need to understand that as you develop, you will have to revise the circle of your advisors. This is useful for all women in business to think about: who is around you? Who are you conferring with? Be honest! This will help you become better.
WHAT OTHER ADVICE COULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN WORKING IN A MEN'S ENVIRONMENT?
Don't be afraid to say what you think. I come across this on a regular basis, and a lot has been written about it in Sherrill Sandberg's book.Often you come to a crowded business event, and women in the literal sense of the word do not find a place for themselves at the table - they sit at a distance. They do not raise their hands, and it seems to them that they are not being heard. I know this firsthand: I have met a lot of such women, and I myself was like that. You know what to say, you have an idea, but you keep your mouth shut. Not only women, but also men must have a hand in change: they need to create an atmosphere in which women feel they have a say.
But facebook is not only about gender equality?
We make every effort to diversify the composition of our employees. How many people, so many opinions. For a company that cares about 1.7 billion users, it is important to maintain a diversity of employees and a plurality of opinions. This is an important vector of development. As for the current state of affairs, things are not so good: 67% of our employees are men and only 16% of our company's technical staff are women. This is not enough, and we know this is a problem for the entire tech industry. About 27% of leading positions in our country are held by women - this is not enough. Mark Zuckerberg thinks everything is good - thanks to people like Sheryl Sandberg and Carolyn Everson, who are in high positions in the company. But we think more can be done.
I think we need to work harder to get more women to work in technology - and we are working on that. This is not easy, and you need to start with the youngest girls, who believe that mathematics is not their area. If from a very young age you think that exact sciences are not for you and that you are not good enough at them, you will not continue your education in this field.
Other areas in which we are trying to do more are parental leave. We urge people not to be afraid that their personal life will interfere with their work. We give men the right to take parental leave for four months, just like women. For Facebook, it is not important whether you come to the office, but your contribution to work - we use the strengths of our employees.
WHAT IS RACIAL DIVERSITY?
When I talk about diversity, I am talking about many different aspects of it. It means different things in different countries. It’s not only race, it’s also religion, age, did you serve in the army, and so on. The people you hire must be different from you. One of the things we brought to the company is the need to think about prejudice. Everyone has prejudices, especially those who think they are free from them - there is a certain irony in this.
About a year ago, we introduced a special course, and during this time more than half of the company's employees have completed the training. He helped us learn more about what might be called "lazy biases." For example, one of my male colleagues, Steve Hatch, was trained and noticed that in our video conferencing system, when you dial a number, a silhouette of a man appears. We make thousands of calls and there is always an image of a man. He spoke with the head of the IT department, Tim Campos, and said that he considered it wrong. He spoke about the problem of a videoconferencing company, and two weeks later the image was changed: now, when you call, an image of a man and a woman appears.
These small situations greatly affect our way of thinking. I believe that when we meet with them, we should pay attention to them and try to change them. This is what changes future generations. You need to be aware of your privileges. If you do not do this, then it will be very difficult for you to understand how you can cope with a problem situation.
In your opinion, has the business environment become more open and friendly for women?
I think they are talking more about the problem now, but there is still a lot of work ahead. It is important for women to have role models. But at the same time, they must have role models in the earlier stages of their careers.It is very easy to look up to Angela Merkel, the country's leader. But what steps did she take to achieve this goal? I think people should pay attention to details in order to better understand what is happening.
We also need to pay attention to women who start their own businesses. There are 5.5 million small and medium-sized businesses in Russia now, and this is a growing part of the economy. The question is how many of these companies are started by women and whether there could be more. We recently conducted a study in the UK - unfortunately, I don't have specific numbers right now - and found that one in ten women has a very good business idea, but she lacks the confidence to turn it into reality.
However, we have noticed that there is enough support from friends and family for her to take action. So we founded She Means Business - a portal where you can watch webinars and get the necessary knowledge, basic ideas on how to use online tools to find clients (what is most needed by those who open their own business) and advertise your product. We are just starting to work in this area, but I am very interested in where this will lead us.
WHY DO YOU THINK MEN AND WOMEN IN BUSINESS ARE NOT EQUAL TO THIS TIME? WHAT PROBLEMS DO YOU NEED TO SOLVE FIRST?
This question worries me very much. I have four children - a daughter and three sons. And I want to be sure that my daughter will have the same opportunities as my sons. And I want all of them to believe that they can help each other become better - in business or in other areas. This brings us back to the question of role models, which we focus on from a very early age.
Recently, an experiment was conducted where children six to eight years old were asked to draw an astronaut, a firefighter, and a surgeon. All the children drew men. And then an astronaut, a woman firefighter and a woman surgeon were invited to the same schools. And the children were just amazed! They were surprised that it was possible. This shows that even at such a young age, children are pushed into frames and stereotyped about role models in different spheres are imposed on them. I think the reason lies in the "lazy biases" around us - and this needs to be paid attention to.
I KNOW YOU HAVE WORKED FOR A LONG TIME FOUR DAYS A WEEK TO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO SPEND MORE TIME WITH CHILDREN. WHAT ELSE SHOULD BUSINESS OWNERS DO TO MAKE MOMS WORK MORE COMFORTABLY?
It's true, for sixteen years I worked four days a week. My children are older (the eldest is now nineteen), so I thought that my physical presence is now not as necessary for them as they used to be. I think it's all about the understanding between you and your boss. If your manager is aware of what matters to you and you speak openly to each other, there is no need to hide something. I know of cases when women left their bags on chairs when they needed to run home because they did not want others to guess that they needed to leave for personal reasons. It seems to me that this is wrong.
I think you should be honest and your manager should be open to talking about what is important to you. This applies not only to children, but also to other moments in your life: whether you need to go to workout, or take care of an elderly parent, or walk your dog. Technology today gives us a wide variety of opportunities to work. People should come to work, perform their duties well, and their activities should inspire them - but not to the detriment of their personal lives. They should live their lives the way they want and do what is important to them. I very often see people leaving a company because of their leader, and not because of the company and its policies. So I encourage employees to have an open and honest relationship with their superiors, and managers to ask their subordinates for their opinion.
Another element of the corporate culture of Facebook is "difficult" conversations.Some things are difficult to talk about, they can be very personal, but they are necessary. What's bothering you? What are you not telling me? This is what I want to know about my employees, because this is the only way we can help each other become better. We are confident that we will work together for a long time to come - this is important.
Recently, you have traveled to many countries where you met women in various business areas. What important things have you learned from these meetings?
Facebook works in several ways. Each of our offices has its own women's group. They run many different events where women get together, sometimes they invite outside speakers and our partners. We have an annual event that we hold in each of the regions: women get together, share their best practices. Two years ago, in December, we all had to publicly promise to change something to help women in business. A promise that I made in front of hundreds of women back then: every week when I travel, I will organize events for women. And it turned out to be an amazing adventure. Here in Moscow I also met leading Russian women in business. But I also try to date women who own small businesses and learn new things from them. Or with politicians. Or with children - with little girls.
When we were in Warsaw a year ago, I hosted a similar dinner for women in business. All of them were at the women's event for the first time - it was just that no one had arranged anything like this before. It seems strange to me that in 2016, women in high positions do not get together and expand their connections. They liked it and continue to meet after the dinner we organized. I'm happy with it.
Photos: Facebook Newsroom, Nicola Mendelsohn / Twitter