Jewish vice president of Meta reveals how her confidence was smashed by bigoted teacher at school

Nicola Mendelsohn tells podcast she felt her life could have been 'destroyed' by the discrimination she suffered at Manchester High School for Girls


Nicola Mendelsohn, Vice President of EMEA at Facebook, speaks during an event to launch the social media company's latest product "Workplace", in central London on October 10, 2016. Social network giant Facebook launched new global product Workplace, a platform that it hopes will replace intranet, mailbox and other internal communication tools used by businesses worldwide. It is intended to compete with similar office communication products including Microsoft's Yammer, Salesforce's Chatter and Slack. / AFP / Justin TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

A Manchester school has praised a prominent former pupil as “an inspiration” after she revealed she had confronted one of its teachers over antisemitism decades ago.

Nicola Mendelsohn, a vice president of Meta, which owns Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, said she felt her life could have been “destroyed” by the discrimination she suffered at Manchester High School for Girls.

The former advertising executive, 50, who has been labelled “the most powerful British woman in the tech industry”, told The Diary of a CEO podcast: “I was told at school that I wasn’t very good, that I wasn’t very clever, that I wasn’t going to pass my exams.

“With hindsight, I think there was probably some antisemitism that I experienced at school, a few particular incidents that stick out,” said Lady Mendelsohn, who is married to life peer Lord Mendelsohn.

“I’m religious and I observe the sabbath, and that meant in the winter months that I would go home early from school, and we had a couple of teachers that would always insist on starting the new topics on a Friday afternoon.”

When her parents complained, Lady Mendelsohn said, they were told that if they insisted on observing shabbat it was not the school’s problem.

She said: “I had an English teacher who used to mark me down, and my marks were really low. I was like, two out of 10, three out of 10, I was in a good school and these were not my marks.

“My parents again —it’s kind of a thing here, they were backing me — they actually took my English book to one of my brother’s teachers and said, ‘What do you think of this work, we don’t understand the marks?’

“My confidence was so smashed by these teachers telling me I wasn’t good, I wasn’t smart, I didn’t think that I would maybe even do A-Levels, or even go onto university at that time, which was kind of the norm for that school.”

Nonetheless, Lady Mendelsohn got an A in her English A-Level and secured a place at the University of Leeds to study the subject. After receiving her results, she returned to her former school to confront her teacher.

“She was, as you can imagine, quite shocked. I said I’ve come to tell you that you could have destroyed my life, and the power you wielded on others could destroy and, I said, you really came close with that with me, and taking away a dream of mine that might never have been realised.

“I just needed to tell her that, and I felt better for telling her that. I never saw her again.”
Asked what her teacher’s reaction was, Lady Mendelsohn said: “She just looked at me shocked.

“I think back now with the benefit of age it was quite a shocking thing to tell somebody that their own biases and prejudices, and the power that they wield could destroy a life.”

“You know, in comparison with the best of teachers that can inspire and lift up and make you believe in yourself more, that wasn’t some of the experiences I had from some of my teachers,” she added.

In a statement to the JC, Manchester High School for Girls said: “We stand against antisemitism in the strongest possible terms and take any reports of prejudice extremely seriously.

“We were shocked to listen to Nicola Mendelsohn’s story, and stress that it does not reflect the school’s values in any way. MHSG believes deeply in inclusivity, kindness, and supporting each other to achieve outstanding academic and personal success.

“Nicola is an inspiration to our students, and we are deeply sorry to learn of her experiences.

“We encourage anyone in our school community who believes they have experienced anything similar, including our alumnae, to contact the school.”

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