Google Canada's Ashley Francisco on being a champion for others

Ashley Francisco currently serves as the Head of Startup Developer Ecosystems for Google Canada. She manages Google Canada's Accelerator programs, scaled startup ecosystem events, and Canadian partner engagement. Her goal is to bring the best of Google's people, programs, products and technology to startup teams across the country. Ashley is a professional marketer by trade with a diverse background in local and global brand building at Google, Visa, Mondelez and Kraft Foods. Ashley was raised in Elmira, Ontario and now lives in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario with her husband and two dogs. 

WCT: Leadership comes from everyone in an organization, regardless of title  – how would you describe your style of ‘leadership’ in your role at Google today?

Ashley: One of the things I admire about Google’s culture is that leadership is a key attribute for everyone in the company - from senior leaders through to more junior individual contributors. An ability to lead and influence - whether from top-down, bottom-up, or amongst a group of peers - is not only encouraged, it's required to thrive in our culture. 

For me, embracing my role as a leader - both formally and informally - throughout my career has been a journey and is one of those skills that I will forever be working to improve. My leadership style is driven by a few personal philosophies. First, great ideas come from everywhere. An ability to grow a team that feels psychologically safe to share wild ideas, new ways of thinking, and voice objections to the status quo is critical to deliver 10X thinking. Second, three things always need to be true for your team to deliver their best - they need to be learning, they need to see the linkage between their work and the company’s mission, and they need to be having fun. Make each of those a priority. 

WCT: Can you tell us about how you paved your own path at Google? How did you advocate for yourself?

Ashley: I’ve been at Google 6.5 years - as a fun fact, 86% of Googlers are newer to the company than me! When I started, I was brought in as a Brand Strategist to support the advertising business on the Large Customer Sales team in Canada with must-win brand opportunities for their clients. I did this for a few years and I learned a ton supporting a wide variety of multinational clients that represented some of the most valuable brands in the world - from auto to CPG to government and fintech. But I quickly came to realize that I wanted to put all the knowledge I had gained working at that global, macro scale to a different business community -  I really wanted to bring those same learnings, insights and strategies to Canadian companies. To home grown startups ready to scale and grow. So, I did what many Googlers do in that situation; I took on a 20% project alongside my core role that allowed me to support Canadian startups through existing partnerships with Communitech and the DMZ. And what I love about Google is the fact that a mix of hard work, dedication, advocating for yourself and the ecosystem, and data - made that dream possible. Today, I lead all of Google’s Startup Developer Ecosystem efforts across the country. 

WCT: Can you tell us a little bit more about the Startup Developer Ecosystem at Google?

Ashley: My goal each and every day is to bring the best of Google’s people, products, programs and technology to Canadian founders and startup teams from coast to coast to coast. We do that in a few different ways. Our Accelerators are high-touch intensive three-month bootcamps to give select founders and their teams the tools to prepare for their next phase of growth, and ultimately contribute to a stronger Canadian economy. In addition, we offer scaled access to Google education, mentorship and community through programs like Founder Fridays. Last but certainly not least, we partner with other amazing ecosystem builders like Communitech, Notman House and the DMZ to support founders through their full startup journey. 

WCT: When it comes to women in tech, what have you observed managing the Startup cohorts? What have you learned? What has inspired you the most? 

Ashley: In addition to the Canadian specific accelerator cohorts, I also oversee our North American Google for Startups Accelerator for Women Founders. The program originally launched in 2020 and we are currently working with our second cohort of ​​twelve amazing women-led startups who are all using technology to solve complex challenges. 

When it comes to women founders specifically, while they are well-connected at the peer level within their ecosystems, research continues to show that they consistently lack access to VC’s and Accelerator programs - and the pandemic has only worsened this disparity. This puts these underrepresented founder groups at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to raising funding and gaining the skills they need to take their company to the next level. 

While we certainly have work to do here, what inspires me is the tenacity and commitment these startup teams have to their cause. From delivering energy-neutral wastewater systems to building the world’s first blind spot sensor system for wheelchairs, we’re inspired and honoured to work alongside these companies to help solve their most pressing technical and business needs.

WCT: Witnessing the hardships a lot of women go through for a variety of different reasons in their careers, what advice do you have for our members on how to be an advocate to lift other women up? 

Ashley: Throughout my career, it was always clear to me that I struggled to champion for myself. I never felt comfortable asking for that raise, the promotion, or that new shiny project. My strategy was to focus on delivering great work and that everything else would follow. I always thought this was a ‘me’ challenge - but as I progressed in my career it became clear that many women feel this way and are less comfortable advocating for themselves than their male counterparts.

My advice would be twofold: find a champion for yourself, and be a champion for someone else. I’ve been very blessed in my career to have had managers, mentors and champions (both men and women) along the way who not only advocated for me and my talents, but who coached me to become more comfortable advocating for myself. I wouldn’t be where I am today without a few of those individuals - and I try my best to model that behaviour and champion for other women as they progress in their careers today. 

WCT: Ashley, it’s no secret that we all go through ups and downs both personally and professionally. What keeps you motivated day to day?

Ashley: Love this question! And I’ll give you a very pragmatic answer - and a more aspirational answer. On the pragmatic side, I’m a huge believer in designing your day to make the most of your energy - and not falling victim to your calendar each day. We’re all different and each of us gain energy from different types of work, interactions and meetings - and in that same vein we find different tasks and interactions depleting. Get to know what gives you energy and what takes your energy. Set yourself up for success by designing each day with just as many things that give you energy as those that you find taxing. 

On the aspirational side, I’m most motivated when I’m working in service of something bigger than myself. I certainly found the last two years of virtual work and back-to-back online meetings pretty draining. And on those particularly tough days, what keeps me motivated is the community of founders, CTOs, startup team members who I’m honoured to work with everyday who see a problem in the world and are committed to finding a solution. 

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