Thursday 5 March 2020 8:00 am

Let’s celebrate female business success

Nicola Mendelsohn is vice president EMEA at Facebook.

I was lucky to grow up around strong women who ran their own businesses. My grandma ran a haberdashery business and my mum still runs a catering firm.

Entrepreneurialism surrounded me, and I got to see how rewarding it can be — not just for the people who set up businesses, but for their families, their employees, and their communities too.

Read more: Women on top: Ex-JP Morgan star Tracey Reddings on how she beat the system

Today, one of the best parts of my job at Facebook is meeting extraordinary women who are using our platforms to build and grow their businesses.

Unfortunately, the research shows that men are still twice as likely as women to start a business. This is a huge missed opportunity. According to findings from the 2019 Rose Review, there’s a £250bn opportunity for the UK economy if young women were to start and scale new businesses at the same rate as men.

Levelling the playing field was the very reason we created Facebook’s #SheMeansBusiness programme in 2016, so that we could help women entrepreneurs come together, share advice, and forge connections to pursue their business ideas. So far we’ve trained 30,000 women in the UK, and we’ve committed to doubling that number in the next two years.

As part of this programme, and in celebration of International Women’s Day on Sunday, Facebook has launched “Make it Work: Lessons from Life in Business”, a book of advice from top UK businesswomen, to encourage more young women to consider a career in business.

Three career lessons in the book particularly resonated with me.

The first comes from Dame Vivian Hunt, managing partner at Mckinsey. Her advice is to tune into your real voice. She describes a bruising performance review early in her career in which she was described as too buttoned-up, lacking a sense of humour and unwilling to speak up in meetings.

She felt these descriptions were the complete opposite to her real personality and decided to embrace the real her at work: speaking up more in meetings and wearing the clothes she wanted, including her grandmother’s bold jewellery.

The second piece of advice comes from Mel Bound, founder of This Mum Runs, who talks about the importance of finding a sense of purpose. She found herself suffering from postnatal depression, while recovering from both a slipped disc and an identity crisis.

Having always loved exercise, she put out a plea on Facebook in 2014 to find a running buddy to go for a short jog around her local park — 75 other mums turned up for that first run in Bristol and This Mum Runs was born.

This Mum Runs is now a community of more than 100,000, with runs at more than 60 parks and a successful e-commerce side.

The third story comes from Grace Beverley, owner of three businesses, including an active-wear brand. Her advice? Don’t believe that all entrepreneurs have to wear suits.

Once she transferred her business HQ from her Oxford University bedroom to an actual office, she began to feel that she needed to dress a certain way in order to be taken seriously. She quickly learnt that this wasn’t the case and that she was better off wearing the clothes she would normally wear. Who says a fluffy headband or a tracksuit means you can’t be taken seriously?

Read more: Celebrating International Women’s Day

If we want to inspire young women to consider a career in business, we need more stories like Vivian’s, Mel’s and Grace’s. We need to share the highs and lows of building businesses and to share practical advice about how to set up and lead them.

So what’s my wish this International Women’s Day? That young women will read the book and get inspired.


Nicola Mendelsohn is vice president EMEA at Facebook. The book is available as a free, online resource at facebook.com/business/shemeansbusiness. In partnership with The Prince’s Trust, Facebook will also be gifting “Make it Work: Lessons from Life in Business” to secondary schools in the UK.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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