From her student days at Cambridge University to her current role as Google’s Strategy Manager of Stability, Elizabeth Abati‘s journey is nothing short of inspiring. A global citizen through and through, Elizabeth has made significant strides, not just in her career but in her commitment to making a difference in society. Beyond her academic achievements, she’s been at the helm of curating and editing for prestigious publications like the Cambridge International Law Journal and the Republic Journal.
This week in #MCNWorkLife, we’re getting up close with Elizabeth Abati, exploring her path to Google and her deep-seated passion for driving change in her local communities.
How would you describe Elizabeth Abati?
I am someone who likes to take on challenges. Regardless of what I do, I love throwing myself into what I do entirely to get the reward.
What was your childhood dream job, and how did it translate to your current work?
As a child, I didn’t have a specific job in mind. Instead of dreaming about becoming a doctor or lawyer, I wanted to influence how the world worked. I always had ideas to improve the economy or create international institutions to address specific issues. The easiest way for this to happen was to work in government, but that never appealed to me.
As I grew older and gained a better understanding of the world and various job roles, I developed an interest in strategy and policy. I saw myself working on techniques that could influence how things operated, contributing to solving problems on a larger scale. Now, I am a strategist involved in shaping and implementing policies for positive change.
Before you decided on the path of strategy and policy making, what did you study at University, and what influenced your decision to learn it?
I studied law mainly because my father wanted me to study law. But this doesn’t mean I wasn’t interested in learning the course; I was. I had to choose between law and economics because either would bring me closer to my goals. I ended up picking law, but either one was okay for me.
As a strategy manager in sustainability at Google, can you walk us through how you got into this career path and your journey so far?
After finishing my law degree, law school, and master’s, with a focus on strategy and policymaking, I can confidently say that living in the UK significantly shaped my readiness for the role I eventually secured. Initially, I explored legal positions in the UK but found the options limited, and none particularly resonated with me. This prompted me to deeply consider alternative career paths outside of practising law. Consulting and strategy roles caught my attention, leading me to pursue them. My first significant career opportunity was with Shell, where I embarked on a strategy role that, unlike my current focus on sustainability, was more aligned with the energy sector.
I had an interest in energy and sustainability. I coupled this with my extensive research and the goals I had to improve society, and it made sense for me to go into this industry despite coming from a legal background.
Tell us a bit about your role at Google as the sustainability manager.
My role is focused on the Android division, and it centres on sustainability and regulatory response. My responsibilities involve building strategies around three key areas – manufacturing devices sustainably, extending device lifetime including reselling second hand where possible, and ultimately disposing of devices sustainably or recycling. I play a role in influencing executive decisions to ensure the sustainability of our products throughout their lifecycle.
You were the project manager at Shell and have also served as an editor at The Republic Journal and the Cambridge International Law Journal. How did these roles prepare you for your current role at Google?
I’ve always been into editing, reading, and writing. So, when I was at Cambridge, jumping into the role of editor for the Cambridge International Law Journal as one of my extracurricular activities was a natural fit. Curating opinions and influencing minds through my work at the Journal helped me further understand my goals, which, from the start, were to influence and shape people’s minds to improve society.
So, when I settled into my job at Shell, it was important that I understood my role correctly, and I did. However, I still yearned for more; that was how the Republic Journal came into play. I met the journal’s editor-in-chief at a think tank event in London, and he told me I could come in if I ever wanted to. Six months later, I sent an email stating my interest in working with the journal. I received an email saying they would like to improve the sustainability and diversity section of the journal. That was how I came on board and enjoyed my time at the Republic.
Would you ever consider exploring that journalistic side of yourself professionally?
Pursuing editing as a full-time career isn’t in the cards for me. However, the invaluable experience I’ve gained from these roles—gaining insight into various viewpoints and knowledge—has been instrumental across all my professional endeavours. It has deepened my understanding of sustainability, climate change, strategy, and policymaking. That said, I’d jump at the chance to delve into and discuss my areas of interest more extensively.
What has been your most significant motivating factor throughout your career?
I am very self-driven. I am quite ambitious, and based on my background, my dad is a very successful person. That pushes me to be successful and make my family proud. So, it combines my interests, my self-driven nature, and my desire to make my family proud of me.
What is the most difficult challenge you think women in your field face when trying to advance in their careers?
It is the absence of other women in the room. Not having that network and community is a big challenge, and I say that from personal experience. The way the corporate world works, you need people to speak for you in rooms you’re not in. While I build relationships with men and people from various life frames, it is still essential to have people from your community supporting you and advising you on what to do and what not to do because they have the same experiences. So, that is a big issue because our experiences as women in the workforce are typically different from the regular person’s (read men’s) experience.
In the year you’ve been at Google, what has been your most difficult challenge and how did you deal with it?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced so far was building a financial model. Coming from a law background, even though I’m pretty comfortable with numbers and math, my training was not on the quantitative side. So, building a financial model without prior experience posed a challenge.
But, whenever I’m faced with a challenge like this, I always look into my contacts for someone in the field to ask for their help and leverage their knowledge. My friend who studied economics helped me understand what I needed to do to build a financial model, and that was how I dealt with it.
Tell us about a work accomplishment you’re proud of and how you made this accomplishment a reality.
I’m limited in what I can disclose, but certain aspects of the smartphone industry were shrouded in obscurity. However, my research shed light on these hidden challenges, enlightening us and paving the way for effective solutions.
It is not uncommon for people to have preconceived notions about women in the workforce. What is the most common stereotype you have heard about yourself, and how have you been able to handle it?
In terms of issues in my professional work career in the UK, I haven’t faced issues of racism in the professional space, but that’s because people know better than to say these things to your face. But, in the Nigerian culture, there isn’t any filter, and that is where most of the stereotyping comes from.
People box me into the career woman category, which imminently translates to someone prioritising something other than family and marriage. They think I’m this uber-feminist, which I am because it’s not a bad thing. They don’t believe I’m a person who goes to church, values family, or can keep a home. As a 27-year-old from an African home, there is the usual marriage talk. But contrary to their opinions, I care about all those things and want those things. So, just because a woman is a feminist and is ambitious doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about anything else.
What initiatives have you participated in to promote gender equality and support other women throughout your career?
The best way to help people beyond telling them what to do is to help them practically. One thing I’ve always done is help women with their application process to Cambridge. Even if they are not trying to study law, I can help connect them with those in the position to do that. I love to do CV reviews, and I tend to help many people review their CVs and adequately curate them. I also participate in mentoring schemes where I can mentor women to achieve their goals. I find it most refreshing to help people achieve their goals.
Moving on to more personal questions about health, wellness, work, and your interests, how would you describe a day in your life?
Everyone should be a global citizen. Now, that might sound corny, but it is essential that everyone actively gives back to the community. I say this because this is a big part of my day-to-day life. I am a member of the World Economic Global Forum Shapers, a community of young people who come together to impact their local communities.
Regarding my day-to-day activities, I like to start my day with coffee or reading a book and charge up. Nine to seven is when I get into my day job. I have meetings, speak to people, draft white papers, or work on slides. In the evenings, I spend time with communities I’m part of, as I mentioned. Whether it’s in meetings or I am actively working on projects for my communities, that’s what my evenings are about and what keeps me happy. I reduce my TV time at night and sometimes watch a 30-minute episode. After that, I read a book, a journal or a magazine to inform myself about what’s happening in the world and expand my knowledge. I enjoy puzzles like Sudoku or crossword puzzles, which I do before I go to bed.
Beyond that, I’m very deliberate about social life on weekends. I mostly do brunches, attend events with my friends on Saturdays and Sundays, and attend church because I’m religious.
Aside from volunteering and impacting society, what brings you the most joy?
Solving a challenging sudoku puzzle. Beyond serious work stuff, I love travelling, and before the pandemic, I was a mini travel blogger, but the pandemic killed those dreams for me. I love to go on solo travels, and I like to travel with my friends. So, those are the things that bring me the most joy.
Is travel blogging something you will explore in the future?
Travel blogging is not something I would do, but I see myself as a content creator or influencer, depending on what interests me or what I want to put out there. Being a content creator would align with my goal of making my opinion known and generally impacting people. I only have time to commit to it partially, and my work is a priority.
How do you prioritise your physical and mental well-being?
One thing I’ve learned about myself is that my body is made for something other than high-intensity workouts. I’m happy to meditate on a mat or go horseback riding. I’m naturally a low-intensity person, and I’ve come to terms with it.
As far as mental wellness goes, I believe in therapy, and when I felt a bit down, I had sessions with a therapist for a while. I am not seeing one at the moment, but if anything changes, I will be booking an appointment to ensure my mind is always on track.
What do you like the most about the work you do?
This seems selfish, but I like having my name on papers I’ve written. Getting credit for work done and being able to say that my work is impacting the world is what I love the most.
What would you change if you were to do things differently in your career?
I never saw myself working outside of Nigeria when I was growing up. But, if I had a magic wand, I would’ve changed a particular election result and tried to improve the economy to work in Nigeria and impact the country.
In the earlier stages of my career, if there’s one thing I would change, it would be understanding the impact of networking earlier. I’m naturally introverted and tend to stick to myself, and if I understood the value of networking, I would’ve done that.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career in media technology?
Know what you want to do and what your approach should be. It’s important to understand yourself first because it is one thing to know what you want to do, and it’s another to see how you want to do it. Understand that your perspective is valuable, and that is what people need. Hold on to your unique point of view and your unique experiences.
Can you give us a tip you swear by for maintaining a healthy work-life balance?
At the end of your work day, close your laptop and leave it. Only open it when it is time for you to start the next day. One thing I like to do is check in with myself and be honest with myself about how I feel. I always ask, “Do I feel overwhelmed?” “Do I feel tired?” “Am I good to go?” These questions help me fully reflect on myself and help me know what I need to be deliberate about. At the moment, with the hustle culture, it is essential to rest. As much as the economy is not looking great, it is okay to rest. Look inward and check in with yourself regularly to ensure you are OK.