Managing Director, Google Australia + New Zealand
Managing Director, Google Australia + New Zealand
Mel Silva is responsible for leading the large teams and expansive remit across Google in Australia and New Zealand. Her role is to ensure that the Australia + NZ teams are delivering on Google’s global mission for users and to oversee across the sales, partnerships and platforms divisions.
Mel is an incredible leader and tireless in her pursuit of building and nurturing high performing teams, based around her views on the importance of inclusion, flexible work and forward thinking support strategies and plans for her teams.
What sort of flexible work practices have you undertaken in your career?
Like many mums, I’ve been grateful for flexible working. After I had my two children, I returned to work four days a week after a year off and that was great for me. What really made it work though was the supportive environment we had. Flexible working was something that was accepted, supported and celebrated. And I think that’s the key to its success.
I think flexibility is incredibly important — not just in creating a supportive work environment but one that’s successful and helps people reach their potential. We are people — not just employees — and we have families and commitments and a life outside of work. Recognising that is crucial — and it’s how people feel supported and enabled to bring their whole selves to work.
It’s very much central to how we work at Google. One of our initiatives is a Ramp Back program that helps mums coming back after having kids. They’re able to work a minimum of 50% of their normal weekly working hours, while they are paid 100% of their salary in the first two weeks as they adjust to being back at work.
What’s really important to think about when it comes to flexible work is that it means different things to different people. And that’s especially true now as we’re all dealing with challenging circumstances. We all have different schedules, work flows and times where we feel we are more productive. I think the key is to find what works for you. We have some great tips in our recent blog.
What are the biggest barriers or challenges you have overcome in advancing your career so far ?
Me ….and the stories I’ve told myself.
I believe, one hundred percent that I’ve been my own worst enemy in the past.
Sometimes it’s fear, sometimes it’s self doubt, sometimes it’s not wanting to value the skills I have enough — the list goes on. But, as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to turn those moments into something that motivates me and sparks my inner mongrel.
I’ve become much better at telling myself I’m selling myself short and to snap out of it — most of all it’s putting it all in perspective and realising that the worst case scenario isn’t that bad and to have a crack. The ability to get comfortable with taking risks is the big unlock for many people, especially women.
If you could give 21 year old Mel only two pieces of career advice, what would you say ?
Wouldn’t we all love to go back and give ourselves some career advice at 21? The hard part is limiting it to just two points!
Embrace your individuality — now I know this is something that can feel hard to do when you’re young and trying to forge a career. But I think it’s really relevant, not just for your career, but also when it comes to leadership. Leadership is not about following one particular approach. I think the best leaders are those who’ve developed their own style — drawing on their own strengths, abilities and their personal life story. I think there’s immense power tapping into your individuality and cultivating your own approach. I’m a pretty straight shooter, and let’s just say I may have gotten some advice from others when I was in my early career that suggested I should “tone it down” and not be “too passionate” — it took me a while, but I eventually realised this was my superpower and if anything I should dial it up.
And the other piece of advice would be to ruthlessly pursue an organisation and a culture that embraces and encourages your strengths.
For me, being a straight shooter, who is all in all the time — I found that at Google. We have a healthy disregard for the impossible. That’s something that underpins the way I work but its an ethos that lives and breathes in our culture. Getting rid of the word ‘impossible’ from your vocabulary entirely is an incredibly empowering thing.
You’re an incredibly strong champion and advocate for diversity, both in your role and personally with a genuine interest to drive change. What keeps you up at night ?
Well, firstly diversity is just one part of the equation — inclusion is just as (if not more) important). This means making sure that everyone feels like they have a place — that you can be you and bring your whole self to work every day. Driving equality in numbers is not easy, but changing behaviours (unconscious ones in particular) is really hard. I’m super passionate about both elements, and not just in gender, or just technology but across all facets of diversity and across all industries.
On both fronts, it’s the clear that we have a long way to go and more needs to be done. Technology is broadly similar to most other industries when it comes to female leadership — with women in executive, senior-level and management positions at around 25% in S&P 500 companies.
We need to see that improve. And I think it will improve.
We’re now well beyond it being an issue of fairness, there is clear data that shows a diverse and inclusive workforce is the key to an organisation’s success.
That’s across diversity in gender, ethnicity and race. And that’s just common sense. Australia’s a diverse country — and that means users and customers come from diverse backgrounds. When you have a diverse workforce, with the broad viewpoints and ideas that are inherent in that, you’re going to be able to better serve your customers and users. And ultimately, be more successful.
There’s a way to go, but I’m optimistic, encouraged by the progress and excited about helping to drive change.
What advice would you share which has worked for you in building a sense of culture and community whilst working flexibly and managing a team who work flexibly ?
It’s been an incredibly human time — so the number one tip is being human. I’m mean, you are literally in people’s bedrooms, living rooms, kids are coming in and asking to have a biscuit and your parenting is on display — it’s all out there. But what that all means is making space for all that is super important.
I decided pretty early on that I didn’t want to be that mum who was telling her kids to go away every 5 minutes (which lets face it was the reality when we were homeschooling, and is still the case for my teams in Melbourne …#hanginthereVictorians) so I literally started every meeting by saying if the kids came in and needed something, folks would have to wait.
Being the boss of your boundaries has always been my mantra when it comes to flexibility and that has proven to be true now more than ever.
I’ve been so proud of my Googlers though — I’ve been sending regular updates, they have been supporting each other — we had one Googler set up a virtual kid sitting service so parents who were stuck could have the kids entertained while they took a meeting and the list goes on.
It’s my role as a leader to make sure there’s an environment, and a culture, that allows them to bring their whole selves to work — whether they are in the office or working from home.
Regardless of your location or work days — it’s the same values and principles that determine a great culture and foster a great community. It’s about setting the right tone, it’s about trust, and it’s about openness. People work hard and want to feel recognised, and rewarded for their efforts. I think that’s something we do particularly well at Google.
Give your crystal ball a polish for us. Is this really the beginning of the changes the world has desperately needed on so many fronts despite such harsh realities ?
I have always been an optimistic person, and try to find the Silva Linings…. and while I know so many of us want to close the door on 2020 and get past this, it would be a waste to simply pine for the way it was and not look at the bright side, look at what’s better and and try to make sustainable changes.
I think that outlook is more important now than ever before. It’s been an immensely difficult time for people around Australia and right around the world. That’s going to continue for some time. And we all hope that we can return to some level of normalcy as soon as possible.
From my perspective, I think we’ve seen the best of humanity, and innovation through this time.
The incredible and tireless efforts of essential workers — who’ve worked around the clock for months now with empathy and care in the service of others. We’ve seen the staggering things the human mind is capable of with creative, innovative thinking — as people, communities and organisations have quickly adapted to challenging circumstances, and I for one am not missing all the work travel and commute time.
There’s a lot of uncertainty right now- but I think we can all take comfort and draw hope for the future from what we’ve seen over the last few months in the way we’ve tackled this situation.
The new leaders of industry won’t simply go back to BAU, they will pivot and adopt the new best practices that we’ve seen to make work and life better.
Could you share your top 2 or 3 predictions for what the new future may hold and how workplaces will shape up heading into 2021 and beyond.
I think this year shows that predicting the future is harder than ever. But technology has clearly been crucial in how we stay connected at work and stay connected personally. And I think we will see technology play a critical role in education throughout 2021.
We’ve seen rapid growth there ourselves over the last few months -with 140 million students and teachers using G Suite for education. And there’s millions of people using Grow With Google where we offer free training, tools and events to help you grow your skills, career, or business. And we’ve been encouraged by the takeup. So I think the growth in education online will skyrocket.
I think we’ll see the nature of work change and adapt — and we will all need to be flexible around that. It’s likely to be more than the simple widespread adoption of working from home.
Through this period, we’ve seen people working in different ways. People are working in sprints, or working at different times that are more suitable, allowing them to pick up the kids or suit a time when they’re more productive. And I think we will see a lot of those habits and trends come into the traditional office.
Melanie shared her insights with Puffling’s Lija Wilson.