Cloudflare TV

👩‍💻 *Women in Tech EMEA* Leading the Change

Presented by Anthony Pickersgill, Mahalakshmi “Maha” Pula, Alexandra Moraru
Originally aired on 

Join us for a panel discussion with three leaders who have built successful carrers in tech, and learn more about challenges and opportunities they have faced.

If you want to apply for a role at Cloudflare but are unsure of what the best fit would be for your skillset, please apply using this link and the Recruiting Team will follow up -

Women in Tech

Transcript (Beta)

Hello, this is our segment from our Cloudflare Women in Tech Day for EMEA. Welcome everyone, my name is Anthony Pickersgill.

I am part of the recruiting team here in EMEA.

I work closely with all of our hiring managers on programs, making sure that our interviewers are trained and also making sure that the candidate experience that we deliver is of a really great standard.

I'm really excited to be joined by Maha and Alex, who I'm going to ask to introduce themselves.

So Maha, do you want to kick us off, introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do at Cloudflare?

Absolutely, Anthony, so excited to be here. My first time on Cloudflare TV debut.

My name is Maha Pula. I joined Cloudflare five months ago.

I'm the vice president of the global pre-sales team, leading a team of pre -sales engineers and solutions engineers to deliver on our sales targets.

Well, basically what that means is that my team is the better half of sales.

I'm sure that's a very contentious perspective, but it's great to hear that you're backing your team so well, Maha.

Alex, tell us a little bit about what you do here at Cloudflare.

Hi, everybody. I'm also super excited to be here because I think this is a great event.

My name is Alexandra Morado. Call me Alex, please. I lead the delivery management team here at Cloudflare.

I joined as a delivery manager when we were only two of us and now the team has grown quite significantly, which is one of the things that I wanted to talk to everybody here today.

Previously to Cloudflare, my career in tech, I worked in a couple of startups, but before that, my background was in consulting and logistics.

Very varied there, but I find myself in a great company helping to build a better Internet.

Yes. Our tagline, helping to build a better Internet, always coming up.

I love it. This segment is called Leading the Change.

We're going to have a very open conversation about diversity in the workplace and what Maha and Alex's experiences have been and also how they've managed diversity as team leads, as managers in the different situations they've been in their careers.

I've got some questions over here that are ready and raring to go, so I'm going to kick off with those.

First of all, you're both women who have built your career in a competitive market, currently in leadership positions, but can you tell us a little bit more about your path and how you got to where you are now?

Maha, would you like to kick us off? Of course, of course.

I know I was thinking about this last night, Anthony, and I look back 20 years and I was wondering how best to give you a view and an audience of you into building a career.

And for me, I look back and I was like, wow, what a wonderful journey that I had all the way up to the present.

It's like, look at it like looking back on a highway, like you're on a road trip and then you're out there and there's a twist and turn in the road.

Everything adds a new dimension and a character to the journey and shaped me sort of where I am today.

Just like it happens when you're on a long road trip and I'm a big road tripper, like we all of us in our family love to get out on these long road trips, don't ask me why, but we pause, we stop, we pull over, we sleep over, and we sometimes pull over for a scenic view, sometimes we get a flat tire, sometimes we get towed because there's some roadkill or something, and so there's all of these things that happen on a journey and I look back on my career path and I felt like my career journey also reflects much of that same on being on this long road trip, you sort of enjoy some moments of it and sometimes you're just in a back-to-back traffic and you're like, you can't move, you're just like stuck in place.

That sort of describes how my career journey has been, even if it's in a competitive market, it's never been easy, but then just what's the fun in being there if it's super easy.

So the path has been just without its own challenges, sometimes people cut in front of you like they do on a highway, but then you just keep steady and you keep going, you don't get into road rage and other things, you just don't become too reactive and sort of be in control of your journey as you are.

In a way, that sort of sums up my journey over to the present, all the way to the present.

That's really interesting and I think one thing that I've thought about a lot myself as my career has developed is accepting those bumps in the road and those moments of pause where you weren't expecting to pull over the car, but you're having to do that or you're having to take a diversion that wasn't on your planned route, but it's about navigating those and sometimes those routes take us on paths that we wouldn't expect but we actually gain a lot from, I'm sure that's probably happening.

Absolutely, yeah, those detours, take them.

So there you go, that's our first piece of advice in this segment, take the detours when they come your way because they might be really valuable.

Thanks Maha. Alex, what about yourself, how did you get to this position in your career and what happened along the way?

Yeah, what a fantastic metaphor Maha has used because this week as I was reflecting on this question, I was thinking that there isn't a specific recipe that I followed in creating my career.

I don't have a 20-year plan, even a five-year plan, right? Because while I am a strong believer in planning, choosing the right opportunities for myself, really evaluating pros and cons and all of that, right?

You can tell that I'm fairly organized in that sense.

What I learned actually is that with every experience that I've embraced, many new doors opened, right?

Doors that I didn't know existed, that I didn't really consider very, very much ahead, right?

So you can't plan for these and then you can have a great view about what you'll learn if you take a new role or if you learn a new skill or, I don't know, if you get a new certification but you can't really fully control that journey.

So very similar to what Maha was saying that maybe you'll get a flat tire or you'll decide spontaneously to stop at the viewing point, right?

But what I realized is that what works for me is just taking every step at a time and approaching every new step of the journey with a very open mind, right?

Because when I started my career, I was working with a large partnership in a consulting company, right?

So interesting, but then I never thought that that would lead me to logistics and then that would lead me to tech advisory and then that would lead me to blockchain and edtech and now working for an Internet company, right?

So I never really planned these things.

So what I can draw as a conclusion for me, what worked in getting me to lead a team of impressive people in a great company in which I feel really comfortable and I feel I'm learning a lot, was the fact that I always pushed myself to just be humble.

So accept that I don't know everything and it's great to just learn along the way and learn as much as possible, right?

So I got really curious about much more than just my job or just my team and then looked at things from the perspective of not what I can do to become better but how can I enable others, right?

And that's what actually guided me through the journey and I think that this is also what can help make me a better leader, a better manager and a better person to work with ultimately, right?

Because if we enable success in others then the whole group is more successful, right?

So yeah, I think that's my abstract view of what was the path so far.

I love it. I think we've hit so many metaphors. We've had doors, roads, recipes.

There's definitely a lot of metaphors going on. I think what's really interesting there as well to tie into kind of Maha's image of us being on a path there that you're talking about enabling others.

We're not in a solitary car.

We're on a road and that road is lots of other drivers there with us, right? And sometimes you might take a right-hand turn and say to the people behind you, follow me.

I'm going to take you on the right path and that's what it seems like you've done as a manager and what you've prioritized.

So I think that's also really important because for me, one of the most valuable things in someone that sits in a leadership role is not only looking out for themselves, but obviously the team beneath or who work alongside them.

Beneath is not the best word, but I would say, yeah, the team that you're supporting and working alongside.

And that's not just about, obviously we all need to hit our targets and make sure the things that we've got to get done, but also like you said, about their development, their professional experience, growing and giving those opportunities.

So I think that's really great to hear that you both think about it in that way as well.

Okay, great.

So going on to my next question, do you feel you had different opportunities by choosing a career in tech, despite it still being considered as not such a diverse environment as other fields?

Maha, what are your thoughts on this one? Oh, this is going to be such an interesting topic.

We could talk about this all day long.

I'm sure that a lot of people, our listeners and viewers that are very, very interested in this topic and it's top of mind.

I'm going to take, I'm going to put a lightning rod out right now and tell you that my thought is a little bit personal.

Like this is my personal thought, just want to be very, very clear on that.

I find that every field is homogenous in its own way.

It's just the nature of the base in that we've had some of these traditional roles that have been traditionally homogenous in one way or the other, gender, race and other things.

So you'll see some functions that are predominantly male, while others are predominantly female.

There are that, but the key here is talking about inclusion and diversity across all dimensions of race, gender, etc.

And so opportunities, yes, there were a lot of them for me to choose from.

Did I want to choose them? No, I don't want to.

I didn't know some of the choices that I eventually made as I went through this journey.

Do I want to take a right or a left? I'm going to fork in the road.

Yogi Berra said, the great Yogi Berra says, when you get to a fork in the road, take it.

So sometimes you just take that fork in the road. But I've been very lucky that sometimes I had to choose, but sometimes I was guided by and coached and mentored and stumbled my way through some of these choices that I made.

But if you ask me, Maha, knowing what you know today, would you go back and make some of those choices?

That's a very hypothetical question. And my hypothetical answer is maybe.

I may go and choose. I may make some different changes to some of the ones I choose.

I know I'm not directly answering a question around, you know, oh, it's not a diverse environment.

And do you feel like you had different opportunities? Sometimes we generally have a choice of two, right?

Like in my kitchen, it says, you know, a menu for today, choice of two, take it or leave it.

I like that.

Take it or leave it. Go with the opportunity or don't. Really, really interesting thoughts there, Maha.

And I really do think that that idea that we've, you know, see homogenous groups in lots of different environments and fields is definitely the way of thinking about it, because there isn't one dominant group of people that you sit with in any field.

And that's across not only the tech industry, but broadly across all kind of industries and areas of work.

You know, we do see homogenous groups.

It's really important to make sure that we think about those homogenous groups as separately existing, because they do.

It's not one workforce that's become homogenized.

It's actually little pockets of that homogeneity. So really interesting.

Thank you. Alex, what are your thoughts on this one? Yeah, it's a very interesting question indeed.

And I don't know if there is a way to actually answer it, because I never really actively thought about this.

Okay, what different opportunities did I have as a woman or with a person with a specific cultural background or not?

I think what helped me a lot was the fact that I didn't think much about this, like I didn't sit there and analyze and dissect this idea that, oh, my God, I'm working in tech, for example, which we know all the stereotypes of maybe male white engineers or very specific groups.

And I think what helped very much was the fact that I grew up in a family where both my parents studied engineering, right?

Both of them, my mom, my dad, they both worked. And I never even questioned this, that what is the role of a woman in her career and everything.

And so then that goes back to the types of role models I was exposed to, which enabled me to not question very much this idea and my role and my ability and my openness to different opportunities, right?

But I also recognize that this is maybe a two-sided thing, because maybe naively, I just didn't realize that I was passed on for some opportunities.

Maybe it happened. I just never consciously realized it, and I never saw it.

So then it didn't really impact me or my own confidence, and it didn't stop me from trying to get somewhere, right?

And I think that was actually very, very helpful, right?

So coming back to it from the perspective of different diversity, you know, I was also lucky enough to be able to work in environments in which I didn't feel that anybody was perpetuating all of these stereotypes, right?

Like we work with intelligent professionals from various ages, various backgrounds, various professional histories, and I always see this, and I learn this very much from them, that it's quite impressive to be inclusive and to try to help everybody to understand what are their opportunities.

And regardless of gender and age and race or anything, what do they need to learn in order to be able to access those opportunities?

So we actually in Cloudflare, we speak quite a lot about this.

If you think of our career framework of our competencies, we have open conversations about what it means, okay?

This is an opportunity currently. It is for you or it's not for you, but if you want it to be for you, what do we need to do about it?

So it's a very, very constructive way of approaching the possibility of growth, right?

And maybe I was just lucky or maybe I chose this opportunity because of this environment, right?

But all in all, it led to having quite a positive experience where I didn't, you know, either I didn't acknowledge or I didn't let myself feel down because of external influences in that sense.

I think that's really interesting, isn't it, about those external influences and then kind of sticking gear with your internal mindset and roadmap and knowing that you stay true to your values and don't allow those outer voices, perspectives to tamper with what you've set as your kind of, your voyage.

Again, back to the roadmap, back to the driving analogy that Maha set us up with, but sticking true to what your kind of plan was in terms of that way of navigating inclusion and diversity in the workplace.

Amazing. This is such an exciting conversation and I'm not just saying that because I'm presenting.

I'm actually having such a great time. I've not stopped nodding since both of you started speaking, so that's a really good sign.

Okay, so on to another question. Alex and Maha, you've both had the experience of becoming a parent whilst managing a team.

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience and how it impacted the way you viewed your career progression?

And Alex, do you want to kick us off with this one? Definitely, we can. So yes, I'm in the process of becoming a parent.

This is what's happening right now.

Thank you, thank you. And this is actually a great question because I became pregnant when I was already leading the team.

I was building it quite from scratch.

As we said, we were only two delivery managers and then I had the opportunity to say, okay, we want to scale.

We want to offer much more support within Cloudflare to our engineering and product teams.

We want to help deliver our practices and help teams become more efficient in how they're working, right?

So then I got the opportunity to, okay, let's hire, let's assess where can we deploy these skills.

And I never for one second stopped to think that the fact that I would become pregnant, oh, will that stop my career?

Will it mean that I need to focus differently or change my role, for example, because of that?

So it was never an issue, right?

I never questioned my ability to do all of this because you know the eternal question, can you both have a family and build a career?

Yeah, I mean, I don't see why not, especially since we are part of an environment that is very supportive of that, right?

So beyond the benefits for parents and the flexibility of our work, you know, work -life balance, I was very confident I can continue building my skill because, you know, my brain is unaffected so I can still perform as a professional and that has never been questioned, right?

So that was very helpful.

And now as I'm transitioning my responsibilities, I realize that I have no doubt and no fear that when I come back from my parental leave, I will be able to come back to my role that will probably be grown, probably the team will be even better, they will have learned more.

I'll be able to take over all of these things because I know that the organization has the right mechanisms in place to make the team successful, even in my absence, but also make me feel comfortable enough to take the time that I need, you know, to take care of my child in their first few months, right?

And for me, this idea that I have no fear of not being able to have a job after parental leave or not being demoted or not being passed for a salary raise, for example, if it happens during that period, that is actually helping making this experience so much better.

And I feel so empowered by the fact that I have access to such an environment with such constructive values and supportive for parents that definitely, I mean, I recommend this, like I wonder, this makes me a better employee, right?

So I wonder why doesn't everybody do that?

Why not everyone? That's always the question I have when we talk about these, especially when we talk about, you know, how being a parent, being a mother in particular can impact your career in the workplace.

Why isn't everyone thinking in the same way?

And I think we're, you know, there's a wave of change which is coming.

And I think that's really exciting. And I think it's about time, you know, both my parents worked throughout our lives as I was growing up.

And I think it's really important that you don't feel that having a family could stifle your career or impact it because it's so important to have the opportunity to build that if that's for you on your roadmap, right?

Or not on your roadmap, and it suddenly becomes part of your roadmap that you weren't expecting.

Maha, you're not, I don't think you are currently in the process of pregnancy, but as someone that might already...

You honestly want me to go on air and tell that, Anthony?

You have children. You're in a slightly different position.

You've got children already, and you've already navigated sort of some of the things that Alex talked about.

So how was that for you? It was so wonderful to hear Alex talk about her journey and how she's thinking about it.

It's so liberating that you always feel like you have a choice.

You know, it's very distressing when I hear, I mentor a lot of super smart people.

And then the one question that really bothers me is that, Maha, you know, I'm really nervous.

You know, I'm thinking about starting a family.

I'm just worried at what it'll do to my career.

I said, if that's a topic of mine and you're concerned about it, you're in the wrong place.

You should never, you know, like Alex talked about a nurturing environment, both at home and at work is so important.

And if you are concerned, then there's something going on.

There's something wrong with the environment that you've been set up in.

So maybe it is time for a change, right? But I'm not offering career advice on the wall on Cloudflare TV, but I'm just saying, and that's one of the stuff that, you know, we talk about during the mentoring sessions.

But going back to your question on experience of becoming a parent, managing a team.

So the thing is like, this is the coolest part is I get to be boss lady at work and at home, right?

How cool is that when you're a mom? You know, in a parent it happens, it allows you the opportunity to maybe even an excuse to slow down.

I think being a parent, I look at it very like, it's nature's way of saying, pause, think about what your purpose in life is.

Put things in perspective. Why do you do what you do? And when you bring that to work, it changes your entire thought process.

For me, being a parent was a transformative experience.

I understood how to deal with stress.

Someday in the morning, you wake up, you know, you don't even wake up. You just haven't slept the whole night.

You come in the morning and you're so grumpy. You just have to really change how you look at things, right?

For me, it's taught me patience.

And it also has taught me how to give out tough love, right? Sometimes you need to, as leader, you have to do the things as a leader that are tough.

You have to make decisions, have conversations that are tough.

You know what? Being a parent, being a pet owner, whatever, right?

You know, any of these allows you to practice it at home too.

So sit your dog down and say, no bad boy. You can have that conversation.

But I'm just saying that, you know, I'm not correlating either one or the other, but I'm saying it allows you.

So I think of this also as another experience that enriches you.

And if you choose to, it's always, you know, it's always a choice.

It's like, if you choose to, then you should get into it. Don't be half-minded about it.

Enjoy the experience fully and thoroughly. Don't be here thinking of there and don't be there thinking of here.

You don't give your present a hundred percent, right?

When you're a parent, just be a parent. And when I'm at work, I'm just at work, right?

Many of my previous colleagues and previous organizations that have been at us ask me, Ma, your office looks like it just moved in and you've been here three years.

I don't put pictures out there. It's not because I don't love my family.

It's just because I look at them. It just puts me in the thought process.

And then I start to, you know, as a parent, you panic all the time.

And I don't want to create that in my mind. I'm thinking about my family.

I know exactly where they are today. That picture just, it creates an additional sense, a dimension for me.

Like that's just my choice, right? In terms of career progression, I've been, I'm going to keep that car and highway analogy, small layover, scenic view, time to take a small break, get back on the road.

And the journey continues.

If you want to get back on the road, if you love where you are, if you're like this place is where I want to settle in and then just be a parent full -time, just be a parent full-time, because you will love that because that's your choice.

So I love it. Help me manage team, understand various dimensions, and also parent perspective, another parent perspective, right?

You had a sleepless night.

It's okay. You know, you're a little tired today. You're being a grumpy today.

I understand. Your child hasn't slept the whole night. It's just, it brings a whole different perspective.

So I've been very blessed to have a fantastic family, supportive husband.

Hey, hello. And family that has allowed me to pursue my career.

So just being, I'd say, doubly blessed. That's great things to hear. Brilliant.

Thanks so much for sharing about how, you know, you've kind of managed your career progression as well as being able to commit having a family.

And I think that's such great advice, you know, be present now, make the right decision that feels right for you today.

And if that decision changes tomorrow or whether that's the right thing tomorrow, we reconnect, we rethink, we reflect and we change, right?

We always make sure that we're going on the right journey of what feels right to us today.

And I think that's really great advice. So we touched on this a little bit earlier, but it'd be great to hear from the two of you about how you go about making sure that the teams you're building are really reflective of society, that they're diverse and, you know, that we've got people that are coming to lots of problem solving situations, I'm sure for both of your teams with lots of different perspectives.

How do you go about making sure that you do build those teams that are diverse?

Alex, do you want to kick us off on this one?

Yeah. And this is actually something that's been on my mind for the last year or so, to be honest.

And I constantly ask myself, are we diverse enough?

And then I look at things like, you know, gender balance within the team. And currently, we have a team that is fairly balanced.

So I'm happy with that. But it was fairly tough to build it, you know, because as I look at the trends within our applicants, and it's true that, you know, the volume of female candidates is much, much smaller, like significantly much smaller than male candidates.

But then I like to add other dimensions here, because I think it's really valuable.

So one dimension that we seldom talk about when it comes to diversity is age, right?

So it's looking at candidates who are much more experienced.

And then with that experience comes maybe exposure to various industries that, you know, taught them things that we might not be able to learn right now, just in a tech environment.

So that's one example.

And also very junior candidates, you know, who come with a very different learning appetite and a very different learning style than others.

And then there's the cultural background.

So for example, I was I was thinking of my team, everybody has a different nationality.

It's true, some of them have double nationality, so that overlaps.

But we're, you know, seven delivery managers currently in culture and seven countries of origin, which I think is fantastic.

And that means that we all grew up in very different environments that, you know, our families are different, our cultural habits, our traditions are so different.

And then we come together and we get to share that.

And it makes us better, better colleagues.

And it also gives us like really interesting topics to talk about, right?

If you think about it in this way, so then add to that other cultural heritage, race, and all of this.

And while we can't, I mean, while you screen for applicants, right, you can't really understand these things.

But for me, it's really important to acknowledge when you interview a candidate, and talk about these things.

So not just have a script that you follow, and that's it, and then a scorecard to measure them against, but actively ask yourself, what kind of contribution to diversity will the person add to our team, right?

So this kind of acknowledgement is really important.

So sometimes it's even more important than a specific certification they might have, or specific experience that they can talk us through, right?

So I know that in Cloudflare, we're focusing a lot on making sure that, you know, all managers are thinking actively about this.

But I do realize, we could talk about it even more, even more, because we should acknowledge that this is what candidates need.

And I'm going to stop here, because I know we only have a few minutes, and I want to hear Maha's perspective.

Yeah, for sure. Yeah, we've got three minutes on the clock.

But Maha, over to you on building diverse teams, and how you've done that.

Talk really fast. As leaders, our main responsibility is to build teams, right?

Like for us, this is like you said that. But our main responsibility is not just to build teams, it's not like throwing people together, right?

And we've heard all sorts of data around diverse teams as being more productive.

But we never stop to think why that is, right? And so like, why does diversity, it's just, you know, checks and balances, that's what it is.

It just means when someone comes with an opposing perspective, it allows you to stop and think about why do you want to take a certain path.

And then you would now either it puts you more firmly in the thought that yes, this is the right thing to do.

Or it's like, ah, you know what, there's another perspective, let me think about this a little bit more before I head down this path.

That's what it is, checks and balances, right?

When we don't have checks and balances, then you head down a path, and sometimes it may not just not be good for the team.

So I think there's a lot of real deep thought that has gone into why diversity creates productive and efficient teams, right?

So now let's take that one. So diversity, first and foremost, is an unconsciously competent action.

It goes from that journey of, you know, unconsciously incompetent to unconsciously competent.

It is a journey, every organization, every team, every leader goes through this path, right?

But for me, it starts with a job description, right?

You're top of the funnel. Does your job description allow candidates an unfettered view of how you think as an organization, as a hiring manager, as a leader?

Thank you both for joining us for Leading the Change.

Great to have both your perspectives, and lovely to hear all of your metaphors around driving, recipes, opening and closing doors.

I think it really helps us just kind of get a better picture of what how you think about your careers and how you think about the teams that you work with.

So thanks for your time, and wishing you both a great rest of the week.


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Women in Tech - EMEA
Tune in to live panel discussions featuring different points of view on what it's like to work, lead and grow your career as a woman in the tech industry. You'll learn more about the exciting projects our teams are working on as well as how Cloudflare...
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