Throughout June we’re working with the Mayor of London’s Sounds Like London campaign to bring you profiles on the most interesting and exciting women in London music and tech. We catch up with Google’s head of Marketing and find out why she thinks London is the best place to be.
Nishma Robb has always wanted to be a storyteller – but she wasn’t always sure how she was going to get there.
“After an internship at Marie Claire magazine, I realised journalism wasn’t my strength,” she tells me. “But I quickly fell in love with advertising.”
A stint at Teletext followed, where Robb rose to the position of Managing Director and tried to move a pre-digital relic into a digital world, before she moved to a business raising funds for travel companies and growing them online. After a break to have her twins, Robb returned to a career in digital marketing, and to an enviable role as Marketing Director at Google.
“London for me is THE greatest city in the world.”
Robb puts much of her success down to London itself, which she describes as a “phenomenal melting pot of talent, creativity and people”.
“London for me is THE greatest city in the world… in spite of the weather and traffic,” she laughs. “It really is the global capital for art, fashion, music and culture.”
Robb cites a number of London-based brands started by immigrants – Transferwise, Shazam, Deliveroo and Farfetch to name a few – as evidence of the “diversity of thinking” London produces. “At its heart, the diverse population means that ideas and thoughts come from everywhere. We have truly international talent in London rubbing shoulders directly with Londoners – and it’s that mix and comfortable coupling that makes great ideas flourish.”
Inclusivity has always been important to Robb. “I may not have always recognised barriers at the time as being down to my gender or race, but I definitely faced bias in moments of my career,” she says. “I was dogged in my determination to succeed – to survive! I had a challenging time in my 20s and survival was necessary. It certainly helps drive you.”
This wasn’t always easy. Robb says she was “passed up for opportunities”, discovering she was paid nearly 50% less than a male colleague (“a very average one at that!”). Challenging it, Robb got a pay rise and a promotion. But she still felt that a lot of the time she “just didn’t belong”.
“I was talked over, ignored, had credit taken for my work… several times I had clients ask or insist I change my name, as ‘Nishma’ was ‘too hard to say’. And as for #MeToo – sadly more stories than I care to share.”
In the 90s, Robb tells me, she felt that she just “had to put up with men and their advances”. “I just accepted that was how it was,” she says. “When you’re young and vulnerable… it’s a scary position to be in.” Age has helped, she says: “you give a lot less of a shit the older you are!”.
One of Robb’s roles at Google was chairing Women@Google, a group lobbying for equality in tech. “I’m passionate about it,” she says. “I will remain restless until we achieve equality.”
Progress being made in some areas, Robb acknowledges. But it can be slow and painful: she points out the recent pay gap reporting as evidence for this.
“Data shows that the progression of BAME talent is far poorer than white colleagues”
And gender is only part of the problem: ethnic diversity is still “woefully poor”. “From recruitment of talent to retaining great people and developing them so they can rise to the top… how can this be, when we have such wonderful diversity of backgrounds in our city?” she says.
Robb points to the culture of many businesses. “They can make those of diverse background feel alienated, and the data shows that the progression of BAME talent is far poorer than white colleagues”.
And she believes role models are essential. “We need to show the younger ones that it is possible to be successful and thrive in London,” she says. “It’s not easy – but we should start with ‘if you can see it, you can be it’.”
“Inclusivity is all of our responsibility,” she says. “Remove the arseholes in power, and make way for the new talent.”