Exclusive: ELLE Meets Nicola Mendelsohn & Sarah Brown

At the #FacebookIWD event

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In celebration of International Women's Day 2015, Facebook this morning welcomed around 200 guests to its annual #FacebookIWD breakfast in London's Euston.

Hosted by Facebook's Nicola Mendelsohn and Their World co-founder Sarah Brown, it featured (along with the coffee and croissants) a panel discussion that included ELLE's own editor-in-chief Lorraine Candy, interviews with Shazia and Kainat - two classmates of Malala who were travelling on the school bus with her when she was attacked - and an exclusive performance by Pixie Lott.

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During the panel discussion, Mendelsohn asked a round of rapid-fire questions about fear, feminism and inspiration. Afterwards, ELLE sat down exclusively with both her and Sarah to turn the questions on them.

Here's what they told us...

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Nicola Mendelsohn, VP EMEA, Facebook

•    What does feminism mean to you in 2015?
I think it means what it’s always meant, which is equality between the sexes. I think it is as simple as that. People ascribe different things to the word but at the heart of it, that’s what it is: equality between the sexes.

•    Who is the woman that most inspires you?
My mum. My daughter. My grandma. I grew up in a family of working women. And my daughter, who is almost 18, has taken on the graft as well - she’s now working at the weekends whilst studying. I grew up with that being my normal, and I thought that’s what everybody did. Recently, my youngest son, Zac, who’s just turned 10, came home from school and said: 'Some of the boys at school have got mums that don’t work. Isn’t that weird?’ It’s all about the nature of what’s normal. That’s been my normal, and they’ve always been my inspiration.

•    What is the best career advice you've ever received?
It’s actually an Eleanor Roosevelt quote, which is to do the things you think you cannot do. Whenever I’ve pushed myself to do things that I thought were tricky, or hard, or difficult, they’ve been the ones that are the most rewarding - the ones where I’ve grown and learnt the most.

•    How do you manage your inner voice that prevents you from action?
As you get older, you get more confident with knowing what you can and can’t do, and how you can push yourself, because you’ve learnt from previous things. But it’s very noisy when you’re younger. Take inspiration from other people; listen and learn from other people and know that it’s pretty normal that there’s someone inside you always pushing you away from that which is possible and making you doubt yourself. Whereas actually, the reality is that you can do these things.

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•    What is the most important life-lesson you've learned?
I’d take advice from Sheyl Sandberg: if you choose to get married, make sure you choose well. Because it’s a really big, important decision.

•    What piece of advice would you give your younger self?
To put myself forward more. And to know that I can make braver decisions, and things will work out OK.

•    If you could make one wish to change the world for women, what would it be?
It would be education. It would be to give all girls the gift that girls in developed countries take for granted. Because literally, if you can put a girl anywhere in the world through school, it will change not just her life but the lives of her family as well.

Sarah Brown, Founder, Their World

To find out more about Their World's Up For School campaign, read our interview with Sarah Brown here and sign the petition online now.

•    What does feminism mean to you in 2015?
Feminism for me is about looking at yourself as a woman and unlocking your own potential. But also it absolutely is essential that it’s about working with other women and helping each other.

•    Who is the woman that most inspires you?
I would start with my own mother; I would turn to her for inspiration. But there are so many around the world that I admire. I’ve been working with Graça Machel, who is Nelson Mandela’s widow but was also an education minister in Mozambique. She is such a powerful voice for investing in young African women and creating the leaders of tomorrow.

•    What is the best career advice you've ever received?
The best career advice I ever received was from a man, from my first serious boss after I left university, which was to not be afraid to ask advice from other people. And the way it was framed to me was, no one ever minds being asked for advice. I’ve found that’s true. You can always learn by asking, and people really don’t mind being asked.

•    How do you manage your inner voice that prevents you from action?
I grew up in a family where my mother was a strong role model for me and I also have a lot of brothers, so there wasn’t really the opportunity to have those moments of doubt. But I watch women really disabled by it, and really holding themselves back. To get past it, I think it's important to have strong friendships with other women, and also being able to see role models. I think if you can see it, you can be it.

•    What is the most important life-lesson you've learned?
The thing that struck me as a young adult was that things always change and things don’t stay the same. As a child, you think of things as always so stable and just when you’ve learned something and think you’ve nailed it, it turns out something different is correct. Our lives are always moving so fast. So I think the lesson is to understand that things change and not feel that the ground is unstable beneath your feet in spite of that.

•    What piece of advice would you give your younger self?
For me, the personal fear that I had through my life was that I wasn’t very good at public speaking and I always would find a way to avoid that. And I’ve entered into a life where it’s been unavoidable. So it would be, embrace trial and error. I think I should’ve tested things out and failed them earlier, rather than putting it off.

•    If you could make one wish to change the world for women, what would it be?
I would wish for women today that they do have the opportunity of equality. And we’re striving and working hard for that, and I think education is what unlocks that for them.

International Women's Day 2015 is on 8 March. Find out more about how ELLE is supporting women here.

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