Liz Cunningham, Google

5th September 2019

As part of our WMB Gender Diversity Ambassador series, Liz Cunningham tells us about her role at Google, her thoughts on diversity and her vision for the future.

Describe your current role at Google

I work as EMEA Finance Director for Google. This means day-to-day I am responsible for developing the strategic direction and future growth of the company as it relates to finance, investment and tax planning for over 100 entities across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

What’s the size and scope of the operation?

There are billions of Google searches every day, and that’s just on Search, we also have YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Photos and many many more products. In Ireland, we marked 15 years in Ireland last November. From an office of 5 people in 2003 we have grown to be one of Google’s largest sites globally, supporting a workforce of more than 8,000 people.

Our Dublin operations reflect the scope of Google internationally with almost every substantial function here, from our bigger teams like Sales, Cloud and Engineering to smaller but growing functions such as our Trust and Safety and YouTube teams.

Who are your role models?

I am lucky enough to be surrounded by incredible role models every day, both within Google and through my friends and family.  As I have progressed through my career and life I find that the people who most inspire me are those who are dealing with personal tragedies and find the resilience to keep going.  For me Noeline Blackwell, Chief Executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and Compass 2018 panelist, is a true inspiration being at the coalface of personal tragedies experienced every day.

What motivates you?

Continuing to grow and develop each day in my role.  Learning and being stretched keeps me motivated.

How important is it to invest in technology?

From our earliest days, we’ve always been looking to the future. It’s in Google’s DNA – our founders Larry and Sergey didn’t sit on their laurels when they invented Search. We are a ‘create the future company’ and it’s all fuelled by technology.

Google is committed to building technology that is truly helpful for everyone. As technology becomes increasingly woven into our day-to-day, making sure it’s improving life, instead of distracting from it, is more important than ever.

One of our focus areas in Ireland is investing in technology and skills. By introducing more young people to the power of technology and helping them learn coding skills we are contributing to Ireland’s future success and prosperity as well as our own. For example, we have supported Camara Education to effectively double the number of TechSpaces in Irish youth clubs.

What aspects have helped paved your way to the top?

Resilience – picking yourself up from setbacks. It’s a word that comes up a lot these days but that’s because it’s a truly vital skill.

A strong intuition in addition to data to support major decisions. If it feels right, then it probably is. Most of the time we will not know how our decisions will pan out so you need to have that self-belief to push through with it even in times of uncertainty

How important is it to have other women visible at management level?

This is critical. It is not just a matter of visibility. Businesses perform better with a gender balanced management team. There is a widely published research confirming this. Having more women in senior management roles is better for business. It also inspires the future generation of leaders. They can’t be it if they can’t see it.  It is important to continue to demonstrate progress in this area. At Google Ireland we have a good balance at the senior management level. However, we have to continue to stay focused on this and growing our female (and male) talent so the pipeline is available is critical. We do this through creating stretch leadership opportunities for everyone.

We heard through our annual Compass Leadership event in Google Dublin that women are really inspired by each other’s journeys.  It is important that women in management roles share their leadership journey so that others in their organisation and more broadly can be inspired.

How has Google evolved to accommodate the changing needs of its customers, and its employees? 

Over the past 20 years, we’ve set out to solve big problems – to make the digital world work for everyone. We’re just getting started, and we remain committed to our mission to  “Organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

As we look ahead to the next 20, our mission keeps us focused on: developing useful products (eg. Search, Maps, YT); helping businesses grow online and investing in big bets and building for the next generation.

We’re committed to helping everyone benefit from the open web; improving access and supporting people as they navigate a rapidly evolving economy.

How does Google attract and retain female talent?

Our diversity and inclusion approach looks holistically across Employees and Culture, Talent Engagement, Communities, Partners and Products and spans from how we think about the future talent supply through exposure to STEM curriculum in primary school via our CS First Program to ensure we eliminate any potential bias in our systems and people processes. Additional programs include internships, scholarships, partnerships with organisations that share our commitment to building a tech industry that reflects the diverse audience it serves.

In our diversity report this year we saw hiring gains for women. Hiring of women rose to 33.2% (+1.9 ppts) globally so we’re encouraged by this momentum and will continue to invest in this area. Starting in 2018 we also shared a weighted attrition index in our Diversity Annual report. On average, women are less likely to leave Google – a pattern that is even stronger for women in tech roles. Ultimately we know our best work will come when our workforce reflects the world around us.

What attributes should a person have to succeed in business today?

Attributes such as empathy and the ability to build connections play a more critical role to succeed today. Being able to build bridges across different parts of the business will lead to an outcome that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Connection is the theme of our Compass Leadership Summit for 2019.  The aim of Compass is to create a place where Irish women leaders from all corners of Irish society can connect with other women facing similar challenges in a non-business, inclusive environment.

Best piece of advice?

Don’t underestimate the importance of happiness. You will never succeed if you are not happy doing what you are doing each day.