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Throughout her career, Nicola Mendelsohn, Vice President of Meta’s Global Business Group, has learned that no matter how much you plan, you can’t predict everything. Understanding how to adapt and advance has served her well as she rose through the ranks in advertising – she spent time at BBH, Gray and Karmarama before landing at Facebook, now Meta, in 2013 – and a few personal surprises also experienced life.
Never has this been truer than in 2016, when Nicola was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, an incurable form of blood cancer. Rather than being paralyzed by this devastating news, she went ahead with her signature clarity and a renewed passion for her family and career that has guided her decisions both personally and professionally.
Control what you can
Shortly after her cancer was diagnosed, she, like so many others, took to Facebook to connect with others who have the same condition, eventually founding the Living with Follicular Lymphoma group. The insight, advice and support she received from this close-knit community inspired her to found the Follicular Lymphoma Foundation, the first charity solely focused on finding a cure for the disease and helping people living with follicular lymphoma, live well and get healthy.
For Nicola, raising awareness and promoting follicular lymphoma remedies has become a key focus, exemplifying her “expect the unexpected” approach to life and her “control what you can control” approach to problem solving.
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Expect the unexpected
Both philosophies served her well when COVID-19 struck. “No one could have foreseen the events of the past two years. One thing we’ve all realized – especially when all the plans made, both personal and professional, seemed to become irrelevant overnight – is that we need to be adaptable. “To deal with the unexpected, we have to be willing to make quick decisions and think flexibly,” she explained. “It’s a muscle we’ve all learned to flex and will continue to build.”
Nicola was forced to train that muscle again after receiving her COVID-19 vaccine and learning they weren’t always as effective in immunocompromised people. And after completing an antibody test, the results showed she hadn’t developed any antibodies. She described this as “heartbreaking” during our conversation – and recognized that her hopes of a return to some sense of normality were still some time away.
Despite this disappointment, Nicola found the silver lining in her circumstances: enjoying extra time with her family. And when she couldn’t travel, she found some solutions that were already within reach and found that virtual reality was able to fill that gap, offering a defining quality of presence that felt direct being around other people when she was physical couldn’t be. At work, she quickly began doing things like her executive team’s meetings through Horizon Workrooms (Meta’s VR workspace) and quickly found that it was far more immersive than the other video conferencing tools she frequently used.
The good news is that thanks to advances in medicine, Nicola has now built up better immunity to COVID-19 and can go back to doing all the things she loves to do. And while her cancer is one you live with forever, thanks to treatments, she now has no evidence of it.
However, one of the most challenging aspects of FL for many people is that it is an “invisible” cancer – you appear healthy between treatments and may not have any visible signs or symptoms, but are still living with the cancer.
Lead with empathy
For all that Nicola has been through – not only in her decades-long career but also in her personal health – she knows the importance of leading with empathy and being a leader with high emotional intelligence.
“People have so much to process right now – how they live, how they return to work and how they manage their health, their finances and more,” she explained. “It’s crucial to pay attention to how people process change and help them through it.”
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For that reason, Nicola says she always starts team offsites with a well-being check-in and asks how people are doing on a personal level. Beyond her direct teams, Nicola is also looking to support others at a macro level, with a particular focus on women in technology and entrepreneurship.
“Not only do I want to help my team, I want to inspire the next generation of women to dream big — and become anything they want to be,” she noted.
women who support women
One area Nicola is particularly proud of is the work done at Meta to advance gender equality both within the walls of one of the world’s largest tech companies and beyond. In 2016, she launched #SheMeansBusiness, a digital skills training program, in EMEA, which has since expanded globally. To date, the program has assisted more than 1.5 million women and has been expanded this year to fill the gap women face in issues such as financial literacy – providing training on everything from effectively managing their business finances to towards understanding financial health Unlock the enormous potential of women entrepreneurs.
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Looking ahead, Nicola Meta is helping to take the initiative to create a level playing field for women around the world. She shares, “Our goal is for 50 percent of our global workforce to be women and for minority minorities to be underrepresented in the US. I am proud that we have doubled the number of women in our workforce since 2019 and continue to increase the proportion of women in management positions.”
While Nicola has faced countless challenges between her health and her career, she has taught her that life is too short not to invest time in the things that matter to you. She hopes her journey will inspire other women and entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams, big or small, and pursue them, no matter how difficult the circumstances.