Unfiltered: #ChooseToChallenge with Emily Mikaili
Womenflare is celebrating International Women's Day, a global day commemorating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, by kicking off Women's Empowerment Month in March!
Join us to hear the insights and experiences of women in all stages on their journey, as they share with us how they #choosetochallenge and help create an inclusive and equitable world.
Guest: Emily Mikaili, Head of HR, Signifyd
All right. Hi. Welcome to Cloudflare TV. I am Janet Van Huysse. I'm the head of people here at Cloudflare, and thank you for joining us for our Women's Empowerment Month.
We have a series on Cloudflare TV this month called Unfiltered, and we're excited about our Choose to Challenge edition, which is brought to us by Womenflare, which is Cloudflare's employer resource group, and their mission is to inspire and elevate everyone who identifies as a woman.
So, in celebrating Women's Empowerment Month, they're hosting a number of episodes, and we're going to chat with inspirational women, one of which we have here today, to share their insights and experiences and how they forge a more inclusive and equitable world.
So, without further ado, I'd like to introduce my guest today, Emily Mikaili.
So, Emily, tell people more about yourself and what you do. Yeah. So, like you said, I'm Emily Mikaili.
I'm the SVP of people operations at Signified. We're about 300 employees headquartered in the Bay Area, but we do have global offices worldwide.
And so, I'm kind of in charge of everything people, you know, soup to nuts.
Anything that touches people at the company, from recruitment all the way through termination, falls on my teams, in my team's purview.
So, yeah, that's my job.
Great. Well, we're super glad to have you here. A quick note before we get started, for all of our viewers, if you have questions, feel free to submit them by emailing us at livestudioatCloudflare .com.
I'm sorry. Don't listen to me. It's livestudioatCloudflare.tv.
And luckily, there's a banner right below this video for people to follow.
All right. I will dive into the questions. Thanks, Emily.
Okay. Tell us a bit about your younger self. And did you have any kind of like big dreams for yourself back then?
Yeah. I mean, I've always had a really big personality.
My parents got me started in the performing arts at a really young age. I was, you know, a violinist at three or four years old.
Pianist. I loved to perform.
I loved attention. I got into acting and musical theater when I was nine or 10.
And so, I guess the big dream that I had, but I probably never really said it out loud, was maybe making it big as an actor.
But I never really ended up putting myself out there and try and make that happen.
But that was probably something I always had in the back of my head.
Okay. And so, then when you think about that dream and where we are now, like how did that dream like become part of where you are now?
Or how do you still carry that? Or how is it a part of your day-to-day? Well, I think for a long time, I actually kind of hated my big personality.
I kind of thought I was inherently just annoying.
And I would wake up and tell myself every morning, like, today, you're just going to be quiet.
You're going to be reserved. You're going to be composed.
And then, you know, 20 minutes into the day, that was just shot, you know.
And I really, I think I let that impact my self-esteem and my sense of self-worth.
I really was convinced that I needed to fit into a certain box to be successful.
And that's kind of a losing battle that really wears on you after a while.
And I was really just looking for external forms of validation.
And I think that's sort of what led me to the path of going to law school, was I kind of was seeking this sense of accomplishment.
But, you know, I met my husband in law school.
We got married. We got pregnant with our first child.
And by the time I was really ready to start looking for a job, my priorities had really shifted.
And I thought, if I'm going to be away from my child for 8, 10, 12 hours a day, I want to be doing something that I enjoy, that I feel fits me, that makes me happy.
And I really started to embrace finding a path that would really allow me to treat my personality as a strength rather than as a weakness that I needed to change.
It did come with a lot of assets for me. And I just started to think about those things.
I'm approachable. I can speak in front of other people very confidently.
It's easy for me to connect with people. So when the opportunity presented itself to get into kind of the recruiting world and going that route, I decided, you know what, this is actually attractive to me.
This actually sounds exciting and fun.
And, you know, it's been amazing to sort of take that path and the places that it's led me to.
And it's given me great balance. You know, I get to be with my kids most evenings and weekends, unlike my husband, who actually is an attorney and works constantly.
And I don't find myself complaining about my job.
I actually love it. So it's been an incredible journey for me.
Awesome. Yeah. We are like kindred people team or HR spirits. And so I was curious kind of how you found your path into it or what is it that you really enjoy about the people work?
I think I just inherently like helping people. And I had that in recruiting and I have that now, you know, working with our employees.
I like helping people get better at their jobs.
I just like feeling useful. And I also I get bored very easily.
And so I don't I can't be in a job where I have to do the same thing every single day.
And also, you know, I think I'm an I'm an introverted extrovert, which means I do get a lot of energy from working with people.
And that's why this suits me so well, although I do know I need some downtime and some quiet time so that I can refuel.
And I've learned that about myself, especially in my 30s.
But, you know, I have nerves of steel. I don't shy away from difficult conversations.
All those things have kind of drawn me in and kept me motivated and engaged, you know, after many years of doing that, I think.
So I'm curious, you know, along the way on your journey, we've all been giving advice along the way from sometimes when we want it and sometimes when we don't.
So when you think about advice that you've received, I guess professional advice that you've received, what would you say is maybe the advice or something that you hear that you would tell people don't follow?
That's bad advice. And then or something that's been really good advice that you would encourage others to to follow?
Yeah, I mean, I I don't know if it's explicitly stated, but I do think women are more likely than men to get limiting advice about, you know, when they're ready for something or like what's next move they should make.
And or maybe we're just more likely to internalize that advice and take it to heart, you know, but that kind of goes against what I've learned, which is that, you know, if you really want to achieve great things, you do have to take risks and you have to bet on yourself.
You know, I almost didn't take the job that I'm in today because I thought I wasn't ready for it, but I've done really well.
And that limiting self -belief would have made me totally miss out on the best opportunity of my career.
So, you know, I think that can be very limiting and harmful for people.
The best advice I've gotten, I've gotten a lot of great advice, but one thing that definitely pops into my mind as someone who has maybe sort of a nagging negative voice that is inside of my head is to kind of imagine myself as a little girl, maybe, you know, two or three or four years old.
And would I say the negative things that I have in my head to that small child?
You know, I'm still that person. I'm just bigger.
And I think that helps me be a lot kinder to myself and more forgiving and to sort of reframe the narrative that I kind of tend to default to.
You know, I don't think having a positive self-image happens overnight, but these are little things you can do that will help sort of change the way you frame that.
And that's been really helpful to me.
Yeah. I love that you talk about that inner voice. I've been doing a lot of work around the inner critic myself.
And it's funny to say, you know, I hear you and you've always been like kind of, it sounds like you've had a lot of confidence in yourself and are able to kind of put yourself out there since you were little.
But yet, you know, so to hear, like, you still had that little voice.
So can you talk to us about like how you have, you know, dealt with that directly or kind of tackle that inner critic voice, that imposter syndrome maybe?
Yeah, this one's been very tough for me. I deal with that all the time. And I think the major improvements I've had, you know, in terms of dealing with that imposter syndrome have been, you know, working really hard and experiencing success and accomplishment in my career have really made a huge difference.
It's given me that perspective to be able to look a little bit more objectively at the people around me and say, like, they don't have it all figured out either.
They may present themselves as, you know, brilliant and confident, and they probably are those things, but nobody knows it all.
Everyone's kind of fudging it a little bit.
Nobody's a complete and total expert to the extent that you're probably giving them credit for.
They just literally put one foot in front of the other instead of being paralyzed by fear or self-doubt.
And so kind of reframing it in that way has been helpful to me.
Like, I kind of have sort of taken down this mystique that I often gave credit to other people for having, and that's helped me a lot.
I mean, I don't know if it's necessarily true.
I'm sure there are people out there that do know everything, but I can't give other people that power.
I have to believe that they are faking it till they make it to some extent, and it gives me sort of that license to do the same, basically.
Yeah, I definitely have had that experience where you kind of have someone that just seems like, yeah, they have it all put together, and they, whatever, are confident, know the answers, whatever, and then you meet them.
You're like, oh, wow, they're human and flappable and, you know, flawed, just like the rest of us are, and put their pants on, you know, one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.
Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So I'm curious with your, you know, having a seat at the table, what do you think, you know, how do you think the discussion around gender equality in the workplace has changed over maybe the last five years?
You know, where do you think, like, where do you see that we're making a lot of progress and lots of reason for optimism, and are there any places that you think, like, wow, we're really still stuck?
Yeah. I mean, I think there's definitely more awareness and understanding of the really pervasive, you know, bias that women tend to face every day, and, like, just more people generally are kind of hip to the cause, so to speak.
I'm seeing better signs of representation in places that it hasn't been historically, like some really bright, shining stars in politics and in really visible private sector jobs.
I also think it's very promising that women are feeling more empowered to speak out when they are blatantly mistreated, you know, whether it's discrimination in the workplace, you know, sexual abuse, things like that.
I think that's incredible. Like, that takes such courage and power, and the more that that happens, I think it gains momentum, and it gives other people the comfort and courage to do it themselves.
So that, to me, those are kind of some of the signs of promise. As far as, you know, places where we still have work to do or where we're stuck, you know, I think COVID's been really, really hard for a lot of people, but a lot of women in particular.
It feels like women in the workplace in particular have taken a big step back, and I think it's just revealed kind of the naked truth about the huge imbalances that still exist outside of the workplace with, you know, women not having a fair share of responsibility outside of the household.
And so many women are dropping out of the workforce in the last year.
I read some crazy statistic that in September of 2020, which is when kids went back to school mostly remote, 80% of the people that dropped out of the workforce were women.
That's staggering. Yeah, I think like the Q4 stats were like by the end of the year was 100% of all the job loss in the U.S.
was for women. So that was, I mean, it's really unbelievable. Startling, sobering.
And they're projecting that, you know, it's going to take women years longer to fully recover economically from the effects of the pandemic than it is men.
So it's like, to me, it's like we really obviously need to provide better support with things like child care, because those responsibilities are clearly not being evenly shared, and it is clearly having a disproportionately harmful effect on women.
I mean, it does sound like there's like some things that are happening there, like public preschool is potentially on the horizon and stuff like that, but we have a lot of work to do.
Yeah, yeah, I think it really has exposed the lack of infrastructure, especially here in the U.S.
You know, we're the only developed nation in the world not to have paid parental leave.
And then, yeah, all the support around child care.
And then to your point that you're making, Emily, of like what is that unpaid work that's being done at home?
And I think, you know, we're starting to really see, like you said, the disproportionate lift that women carry there, and it's starting to affect us as employers and our economy.
Oh, absolutely. And I couldn't do what I do without the support system that I have, and I know that is the biggest privilege that I have in my life right now.
And it's just crazy. I don't see it mirrored in so many women. Like they're just, they don't have that, and it's really, really distressing.
Yeah. You know, one of the silver lines that I've been thinking about this as I get it going to this dark place too, and I think, you know, workforces are better with women and mothers, is that, you know, I think that because we've, because this COVID pandemic happened globally, we've all been in the same boat of, you know, people having to, you realize how much unpaid work is being done.
You realize how important support services are to our economy.
And you realize how you, we really can shift where and how we work.
And I think that, I think we're going to come out of this. So this is my silver lining, and I'm curious if you share too.
So my silver lining is we're going to come out of this, and we really have rethought where and how we work.
And I think a lot of employers are now going to be much more flexible. And I think that flexibility is going to be better for women, especially working mothers in the longterm.
And I, so that is a silver lining that I really do hold to. We're in a world of hurt right now, but I think that in the longterm, this extra flexibility is a good thing.
Yeah, I couldn't agree more. We've seen that at our company and it's been a forcing function where folks that held this kind of conventional view that you had to be a butt in seat to be productive, like it's forced them to challenge that.
And, oh, wow, we've been able to be productive for 12 months without that metric to go off of.
And it's like, they can no longer cling to that as this, you know, this way to measure productivity and value.
And I think that that is very promising.
I completely agree. So, you know, as we're here in Women Empowerment Month, there's been a lot of conversation around women supporting other women.
I'm just curious what experiences you might have that have been meaningful for you where, you know, you felt like another woman really helped you with your career.
You know, I, if I'm being totally honest, I don't, I have not had tremendously, a tremendous support system from like other women in my career.
I, not to say I've been unsupported or have had folks be a negative influence, but that just has not been a huge factor for me.
So that actually drives me to want to be that for other women.
And so, you know, I do a lot of one-on-one mentoring with more junior people in the HR world that I get kind of set up with through my network.
I really try to reach out to women at my company as much as I can, just to ask how they're doing and kind of forge bonds over common interests, totally unrelated to work.
I just, I think these casual, but like sincere connections go a long way.
You know, and to me, I think, you know, truly supporting other women means developing those relationships and caring genuinely and getting to a place where they can feel comfortable, like completely falling apart in front of you if they need to, because that's really, really exhausting, what we all have on our shoulders.
And many of us don't have that outlet and it can be a real game changer. And I also think being really, really honest with other women is a form of support.
And I think, you know, sometimes there's things we don't want to hear and that are hard to hear, but true support isn't just, you know, roses and butterflies and telling someone how great they are.
It's also telling them the honest truth, you know, and challenging them in that way.
So I try, I try to do that for other women as well.
What about allyship? Like, what is your view on, you know, what, what, what is the role of an ally and for more equality in a more equitable world?
Yeah, this is such a hot button topic. And we talk about it at my company a lot.
What I find is, I think a lot of people overthink allyship. I think they mistakenly believe that they have to kind of save the day and make these huge sweeping acts of allyship, constantly be speaking out.
I don't think that's the case.
I think it's more about just the little things you do in your day-to-day life that will make you a truly effective ally.
Of course, if you witness something problematic, you know, speaking up and taking that burden off of the person that's experiencing the problematic behavior is a very critical part of being an ally.
But, you know, I think it's, it's also just the frequent actions, you know, being really compassionate, actually caring, taking the time to listen, making space for people that don't normally or naturally get it, taking time to really understand people's experience.
This is a big one. You know, I end up having employees sometimes feeling really lost, like, gosh, you know, folks are saying, I'm never going to understand how they feel.
Where does that leave us? And I said, well, no, you're never going to understand their experience fully, but you can do a lot to enrich your education and your understanding and awareness to try to bridge that divide and bring you closer.
I mean, I've learned a ton through reading books, watching documentaries, that, you know, things that I wasn't taught in school.
And no, am I ever going to fully understand what someone else's experience has been?
No, but it does help me get closer and make me a little bit better with every moment I spend trying to do that.
So yeah, just generally, I think allyship doesn't have to be these big grand gestures.
I think it's just the little things you do every day.
I love that answer. There was a lot in there that I want to dig deeper into.
I love your approach, just that little everyday stuff, because you hear about the microaggressions and the things that just kind of wear down, especially women in the workplace over time.
And so what a great asset an ally would be to just be able to deal with those microaggressions, you know, instead of it being like, what's this one big ally thing I can do?
It's just these little things every day, just show up and do it.
And I love what you were saying about podcasts and books and that being a place where you've learned a lot.
When you were answering the questions about a female or a woman who's really supported you in your career, I've realized that I've been so informed and inspired by women I've never met.
Just women I follow on social media or something that I'm like, oh, she's got amazing advice or perspective on things or, you know, or people of color that I, you know, I try to have a really diverse timeline.
It's like, okay, let me understand their point of view and that life experience because I'm never going to.
So how, what are ways that you can just have that kind of coming into your life, right?
So it doesn't have to be, you know, there's lots of different ways we can get that information.
Absolutely. And you can have amazing role models that you've never met before.
And I genuinely believe that.
And I think it's not a bad thing to model yourself after that. You're not, it's not plagiarism, you know, it's, it's a role model for you, you know, exactly, exactly.
Yeah. No, that's definitely been a big part of, I think when I think about influences in my career, it's like, yeah, people I've never met before, but I think I really appreciate their point of view and they've made me smarter and see things differently and really appreciate that.
Yeah. All right.
We've got about eight minutes left. I'm thinking about this. Okay. So this year's theme for international women's day was choose to challenge.
And so I'm curious of how you're thinking about that.
And, you know, if there's anything, you know, you really want to lean in on challenging in 2021.
Well, I mean, as I said earlier, I do think true support involves, you know, being honest.
I wouldn't say brutal honesty.
You don't have to be a jerk about it, but like, you know, speaking your truth and, and, and even if it's something that the other person might not really want to hear or might not be the easiest thing to say.
And I think as women, we're in a unique position to be able to do that for one another and kind of push one another to, to greater heights, so to speak especially with the dynamic right now of you know, more men trying to be good allies, it could have the unintended downside of them feeling a little bit afraid to give like honest feedback and things like that.
So, you know, I just think, you know, for me, you know, with my team at work, for example, I think we're really kind of committed to pushing one another towards sort of new heights of excellence this year.
And that might mean having hard conversations and giving each other difficult feedback, but we're all kind of aligned that that's what we want for one another and what we want for ourselves.
And so going into it with that expectation kind of takes away some of that fear and anxiety.
It's like, this is, this is what we're going to do.
So to me, I think that's, that's probably how I'm thinking about it.
Yeah, I love that too. It's like, you're, well, you both have the same goal in mind, right?
And so with that, and then hopefully like trust between you, you can have those difficult conversations.
And it's, that's such a great way to kind of frame it.
I love that. Okay. I just want to actually go back really quickly. You said that like books that you've had, like books and documentaries and things that have been impactful.
Are there any that you think might be worth sharing here just so people can?
Yes. So the book that I read most recently that I've been recommending left and right, and it's not a novel concept.
A lot of people have read it, but it was called the new Jim Crow.
And I just, it was actually a sign, not assigned, but there was a voluntary book club through my daughter's school school that some parents were going to read it and discuss it.
And so I bought it and it's just to me, the perfect example of all the information we didn't get growing up.
And it just completely opened my eyes like, oh my goodness, I did not know any of this was going on.
I didn't. And maybe I'm just very naive. But you know, that one to me is extremely powerful.
If you yourself are looking for something that will really enrich your understanding of, of, you know, the experience of black people in America, or if you have someone in your life that maybe isn't convinced that this is a real problem, I think it's equally helpful for both.
So that one I think has been really, really powerful.
And then actually just at work the other day, we watched a YouTube kind of documentary mini series about the Asian American experience during COVID.
And that was so powerful. Everyone was like having chills.
I definitely got emotional during that. And I thought just given everything that's going on right now, that was incredibly powerful and a must watch for anyone.
It's quick. It's less than half an hour total, but just, and it was, it was on YouTube.
It's like hashtag Asian and COVID stories. And it was just, you know, because right now it's so powerful to put a face and a story to some of these concepts where we're saying, you know, we need to eliminate racism against Asian Americans.
Like, okay, let's, let's see their stories and let's see what they're going through.
And yeah, it's, it was really powerful. And these are all videos folks shot, I think like on their iPhones during COVID, you know, it's, it's really great.
I am so glad I asked. I'm literally, that's exactly what I'm going to do when we're done here.
Yeah. We had a lot of people show up too. I think we had like 40 or 50 people come in and everyone was just completely in a trance watching it.
So did you organize, like at lunch, we're all going to watch this to get like a viewing party?
I just put it on people's calendars. I said, join me if you can. And tons of people showed up.
Oh, that sounds really awesome. I might. Okay. You know how you said that we can just like imitate people and then we were okay.
Or just like, that's what I'm going to do.
So thank you. Please do. It's the most sincere form of flattery.
Exactly. All right. So I'd love to end on a positive, positive.
Let's be our last note. If we have extra time, we'll do a little, some speed rounds.
But last I kind of big question. So what's something that you're really excited about or hopeful about in regards to the future around gender equality?
I mean, I, the most important thing in my life is my children. And so seeing my daughter who's 10 and how she and her friends think and talk about their lives and the future and the world, it just feels like a very different narrative than I had growing up.
She has a big personality too, but she doesn't seem ashamed of it in the same way that I was growing up.
And she and her friends talk about these crazy careers and where they're going to live when they grow up in these ways that they just don't have the same limited beliefs.
It doesn't seem to me.
And so I just, I see less of a divide in terms of what they think they're capable of and the role models that they have.
It just, it feels like there's a lot more doors open to them.
And I think that's the most positive and exciting and encouraging thing possible.
I love it. I'm going to follow up on that. Like, do you find that it, that it isn't just like what's happening in the home that's different, but like the conversation, the support for it outside the home, whether it's school or peers, or does that seem different to you?
Or I think so. I think like women's stories are being celebrated more and there's just more visibility there.
You know, you look at like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and stuff and my, my daughter and all her friends, you know, they talk about RBG and they wear RBG pins and t-shirts and they, you know, they know trivia facts and stuff like that.
I just think there's just better role models and visibility and awareness.
And I think, yeah, I think just generally the dialogue and narrative has, has shifted in a positive way overall where they're getting more positive influences outside of the home, for sure.
Yeah. I think Pamela Harris is our first female. Yeah. It's been a big deal too.
And yeah, I also have a 10 year old, so she's like, we got all the RBG quotes.
It's great. I love it. Me too. I wanted to be here when I grew up. So we have just under a minute left.
So would you mind if we just do like some speed rounds, rapid fire, text or talk?
Text. Amen. Speak every language in the world or talk to animals.
Speak every language in the world. I'm so tempted to know like what's inside my cat's minds, you know?
Yeah. That's a good point. Yeah. That would be nice too.
We're people, people. So of course we want to be able to communicate with every person in the world.
Like that would be awesome. Yeah. Okay.
Last show you binged on. I want to say the great British bake-off, but I think it might've been bling empire, which is a little bit trashier and more embarrassing, but I'll own it.
I think it was bling empire. No, own it, own it. Coffee or tea?
Coffee. Sitting desk or standing desk? Sit. I work out really hard and then I just want to sit down the rest of the day.