Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Lean into learning: NDA meets Vanessa Kingori OBE at Digital Women event in Cannes

NDA speaks to Vanessa Kingori OBE, Managing Director, Technology, Media and Telecoms, Google about how women leadership inspires employees to bring richer versions of themselves to work.

Cannes is naturally full of ‘can-do’ people, and none more so than Vanessa Kingori OBE. Formerly the Chief Business Officer at Condé Nast Britain and Vogue European Business advisor, she has swapped her fashion and publishing hat for a Managing Director role as head of Technology, Media and Telecoms at Google.

NDA’s editor, Justin Pearse, caught up with her at Maison NDA at its Digital Women event in Cannes to find out just why she made the switch and what it means to be one of the UK’s leading Digital Women.

“It’s a huge career pivot for me,” Kingori admits. She explains that there were three, key drivers behind her thought process. First was an inflection point, driven by AI amongst other things. “I wanted to be centred in a company that was driven by AI where I could learn and add value.”

The second driver was the people – “I’d had these amazing interactions with really inspiring Googlers like Debbie Weinsten, our brilliant UK country lead. Lorraine Twohill, SVP, Global Marketing, and Pedro Pina, VP Head of YouTube. My interactions with them got me excited about the kind of people and space I might be entering”. And, she admits, “If you’re going to make a move from a 15-year career at a company like Conde Nast, make it something very different. I built this picture of a place I would be stretched but where I could really land.” 

And the third was timing. Kingori reveals that she could have moved a couple of years ago but, as she says, “this moment, this inflection point in the AI journey coupled with my track record in change management is what I’m most excited about now.”

When asked for her perspective on the challenges that still remain for women in the digital industry, Kingori notes that the UK leadership is now predominantly made up of women. “The most powerful workplaces really platform people of colour and other marginalised groups who bring such brilliant skills and insights if leveraged correctly,” Kingori insists.

“Everything we experience as women that’s challenging in our careers and lives, is amplified for intersectional women, from race and ethnicity, to disability and accessibility, – there are lots of challenges that remain. But there are lots of reasons to be optimistic.”

Here’s hoping Google is at the forefront – Kingori cites recent global research from the UN which showed that 60% of women felt there would be more women in leadership in the coming years. 

“AI has the potential to be a great leveller for us if we harness it correctly,” she adds.

This could well be their time. “It’s more important than ever to be human. That’s my top piece of advice. A lot of the attributes that have traditionally, but not exclusively, been associated with women have now become even more valuable,” she insists. “Of course, emotional intelligence is not the sole domain of women. There are plenty of men who are emotionally intelligent. But often women are taught to downplay intuition and emotional connection and try to be more ‘masculine’ in leadership. With AI, everyone will have to have that vulnerability to be open to learning. Much of the work AI can support leaves a lot more room to be more dialed in to our teams, customers, audiences and perhaps most importantly to ourselves

“It’s critical not just for women to lean into those aspects, but men too. “The vast majority of people don’t leave a job, they leave a manager. The reverse of that is, when you think of starting a new chapter of your career, you need to think about this and your day to day happiness too. People who really help me feel like I have that allyship is so important. So it’s critical for men to lean into the conversation.”

Supporting the next generation and building that layer of succession – one that embraces its vulnerabilities, its skills and offers allyship is clearly so important to Kingori. She speaks to a recent programme called Google Power Up, run by her team. A nine-month programme, it brings women from across industries into Google to offer them mentorship through leadership. “We’ve all got to be focused on what the next generation experiences. But before jumping in to help others, focus on stabilising your career first, because you need strong foundations to leverage if you are to create change.”

Kingori admits that, three and a half months in – she too is in focus mode.

“I’m having to lead while learning and that’s not for the weak”. This means not being afraid to show vulnerability, to ask for help and ask awkward but important questions that might ignite change. Doing this whilst directing the team; leading a high performance, measurable business and staying secure in your leadership skills can be tough but inspiring. “Just make sure you’re on solid ground with your role” 

There is so much that is positive in Kingori’s outlook but even she admits that it’s not all sunshine and roses. “It’s important to acknowledge that there’s a lot of fear currently –  will AI steal my job? The truth is the person or company leveraging AI more effectively than you are really the ones to watch, not AI itself. It’s important to make AI work for you and to understand it so you can ask discerning questions around it.”  

“I don’t have all the answers,” Kingori admits, “but if you’re not leaning into learning and experimenting, someone else is. And they’re going to do better than you. Embrace change because if each of us does not evolve at an individual level the world won’t change in the ways we want it to . The pace in industry will force change either way, so grab the opportunity with both hands and do it your way.”