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Nicola Mendelsohn was busy in her dual roles running a successful and fast-growing London ad agency and as president of one of the UK ad industry’s biggest trade bodies when she received an invite to meet from Facebook’s then-head of global sales, Carolyn Everson.
Thinking it was a typical industry outreach meeting, Mendelsohn happily obliged.
“She came in — and she’s American and they just kind of get to it — she came in straight off and said, ‘I’m here to talk to see if you’d like to be [Facebook’s] head of EMEA’,” Mendelsohn told the Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded show.
“I literally splurted my coffee out — I was like, what?!,” Mendelsohn said.
Mendelsohn has now been Facebook’s vice-president of Europe, Middle East and Africa — the company’s most prominent senior role outside of the US — for more than six years.
When she joined Facebook, the platform had only recently passed the 1 billion monthly active user mark. It’s now a juggernaut that draws 2.7 billion monthly users across its family of apps — including Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger — as of June 30, 2019.
Facebook was also only just emerging as an ad giant in 2013 — registering $7.87bn in revenue that year. The company pulled in more than double that ($16.89bn) in its second quarter this year alone.
Mendelsohn on Facebook’s culture
Despite Facebook’s exponential growth, Mendelsohn said the culture “hasn’t changed a huge amount.”
“Of course when things are smaller, things kind of feel different, but it was always very open, we moved incredibly fast — we still do — and it was very collaborative and it was also very empowering and very entrepreneurial in terms of the spirit,” Mendelsohn said.
Still, many observers have pointed to Facebook’s early “move fast and break things” culture as being some way responsible for its recent run of scandals — from privacy breaches, to its platform being used for election interference and the spread of harmful content.
“There’s been no secret of the fact that it’s been a difficult and very challenging last couple of years for us as a company where the responsibility we have bringing …2.7 billion people across the planet together, and there’s no question that mistakes have been made along the way,” Mendelsohn said.
“So that’s changed. That sense of responsibility and also where we make investments, that’s been a very significant step change for us as a company about how we protect people’s information, how we protect elections, how we get rid of bad content on the platform,” Mendelsohn said. “That’s very much different to where we were six years ago.”
‘You’ve got to help other women’
Alongside being the technology company’s EMEA figurehead, Mendelsohn has also led many of Facebook’s diversity and inclusion initiatives in the region.
Those include “BackHer” — an initiative designed to support women returning to work — and #SheMeansBusiness — a programme running across seven markets in EMEA helping women start their own businesses by offering access to support, partnerships and events.
“I’ve always felt it’s really important that you’ve got to help other women — it’s just been in my DNA from being a young child, that’s what you do,” Mendelsohn said. “You always give back: That’s one of the things my parents always told me.”
Watch the full Nicola Mendelsohn Global Change Agents interview for:
Mendelsohn’s work to empower women at Facebook
Facebook’s shift to privacy and the rise of one-to-one messaging
Facebook’s new diversity goals
Baking diversity into AI development to mitigate bias
Mendelsohn on the biggest misunderstandings about Facebook
How Mendelsohn found support through a Facebook group following her recent cancer diagnosis
How Mendelsohn celebrates a win at work
Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded explores the stories of some of the most inspirational women across business, tech, and academia. Catch up on all the latest episodes here.
Yahoo Finance is supporting diversity and inclusion network INvolve’s EMpower, HERoes, and OUTstanding role model lists. Nominations for the 2019 OUTstanding role models lists are now open.