Cloudflare TV

Unfiltered: #ChooseToChallenge with Heather Rothenberg

Presented by Amada Echeverría, Heather Rothenberg
Originally aired on 

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.

Today's guest: Heather Rothenberg, Ph.D., Global Head of Claims Council, YouTube

Heather leads YouTube's Global Claims Council, which sits in the middle of PR, policy, product, marketing, legal and many other functions to ensure the business is responsibly sharing data and metrics externally in the right way at the right time.

Prior to YouTube, Heather was the VP of Corporate Affairs and Trust & Safety at Wag, the Director of Trust and Safety Research at Uber, and worked in consulting and for the federal government. Heather holds a PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a BS in sociology and public policy from Smith College.


Transcript (Beta)

Hello Cloudflare TV and happy Women's Empowerment Month. My name is Amada Echeverría and I'm on the Field Marketing and Events team here at Cloudflare and we're very excited about this special Choose to Challenge edition of Unfiltered that's been running all month and I'm happy to be you know doing one on the very last day and so these episodes are brought to you by Womenflare, Cloudflare's employee resource group, the mission of which is to inspire and elevate all those who identify as women and in celebrating this month we're hosting these episodes of Unfiltered and we will be chatting with or we have been chatting with inspirational women like Heather about their insights and experiences and sharing how they forge a more inclusive and equitable world.

So without further ado I'd like to introduce my guest Heather Rothenberg.

Heather thank you so much for joining us. Thanks so much for having me.

And where are you dialing in from today? I am in San Francisco, California where it's sunny for one of the few days of the year we are where we actually get real sun without too much fog.

Oh great, very nice. So for the audience Heather and I met through our high school's alumni network and so it was great to connect in that way and another interesting connection was that you used to work with our chief security officer Joe Sullivan at Uber and yeah we can talk a little bit more about that later.

So I just want to briefly introduce you to give some context.

So you lead YouTube's global claims council which sits in the middle of, it's very interesting and I actually hadn't heard of it before, but it sits in the middle of PR, policy, product, marketing, legal and many other functions to ensure the business is responsibly sharing data and metrics externally in the right way at the right time, which is fascinating.

And prior to YouTube you were the VP of corporate affairs and trust and safety at WAG, the director of trust and safety research at Uber, and worked in consulting for the federal government.

So pretty incredible and you hold a PhD in civil engineering from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a BS in sociology, similar to my BS, very awesome, and public policy from Smith College.

And before we dive in further, quick note for our viewers, if you have any questions feel free to submit them by emailing us at livestudio at

You can find them in the banner below and if we don't have time to get to them we'll definitely follow up with you.

So yeah, so first of all, what was it like working with Joe?

Joe was great and I actually give Joe a lot of credit for helping me pivot from a sort of traditional government consulting background into tech.

He hired me to work at Uber and we worked together on safety there.

And I think one of my favorite things about working with Joe was he had this incredible sort of calm and level -headedness even through some of the most challenging conversations we had and I felt like I learned a lot from just being in the room with him and watching him interact with other leaders around topics that could be like really sensitive and sometimes challenging to talk about.

And he always was just so thoughtful and so just measured in how he was able to communicate what he the point he was trying to make and to listen to other folks in the room.

And so I feel like he opened a whole new world for me in terms of introducing me to tech and then I got to learn a lot from him around communication and executive engagement as well.

So it was a lot of fun to work with him and it was great to see that it's a small world and we've ended up back in touch again.

Yeah, definitely. That's great to hear. And so we went to the same school.

I was there for 10 years, not sure about you, this all-girls school and I personally really liked it because I felt focused and motivated and I thought it was a great environment.

Did you like it? Yeah, I did. I have to say I was there for 12 years and then I actually went on to a women's college, Smith, and so I'm a huge proponent of that sort of single-sex learning environment for women.

I think you're exactly right is that it gave me an opportunity to really focus on my study from learning from other incredible strong women, feeling like I had a voice and didn't have to worry about sort of jockeying against the sort of social structures around men and having to compete with them.

And so by the time I got out into the world, I was like, oh, I feel very strong and empowered and vocal and now there are these other folks around me and I feel much more prepared to engage with them.

Yeah, exactly. And I remember a lot of the books that we're assigned to read, even there were very feminist texts.

Absolutely. Yeah, really enjoyed it. So yeah, tell us a little bit about your life prior to YouTube and then we'll dig into YouTube a bit more.

Sounds great. So I've always been really interested in the intersection of sort of science and technology and how we engage with the public.

I enjoyed math and science when I was younger but didn't ever imagine myself working in a lab environment because I enjoy people too much.

And so I was really excited right after graduate or right after my undergrad, I got a job running a small nonprofit.

We got a big grant from the USDOT to look at the relationship between transportation, master planning and engineering and the community we were trying to rebuild.

And I had this sort of like aha moment where I realized I can do both.

I can be really interested in science and technology and also work really closely with people and help people.

And so I feel like all of the jobs that I've had have really been at that intersection.

I got a PhD in transportation engineering as a way to really build some of the credentials and the strong science background.

I went on to work for the federal government with all of those jobs being like right in the middle of that policy people piece and the science piece.

And I think having a background in both of those has been really helpful in terms of giving me credibility with both audiences.

I can have a conversation with an engineer and understand what they're talking about and how they think and then turn around and translate that conversation to lawyers or folks who work in PR and be able to understand how they're thinking about the same topic.

And so I think that I've gotten really lucky in being able to combine those two loves into roles that have allowed me to use both.

Yeah, that's incredible.

It sounds like you're very versatile and have all these different skills.

I really admire that. So and how did you end up in this role? Is this something you planned for?

No, I mean, the short answer is no. I think if I, you know, if I looked at my career trajectory, you know, whenever when I was in grad school, even like Uber wasn't a thing.

Technology wasn't being used in the same way it is now.

And so I don't think I could have ever said like, I'm going to go work for a company that allows you to, you know, to get a ride through your phone.

I mean, your phone is essentially going to be a computer in your pocket.

And then, you know, you know, everything that's kind of gone from there.

So I definitely haven't planned for it.

I actually think that that's been a really key sort of defining characteristic of my trajectory.

I think there's some people who know exactly what they want to do.

And they plan for that job and sort of back into it.

What do I need to do in the next two years, the next five years, the next 10 years?

I am not that person at all. I find something I really passionate about doing that I learned from that I enjoy.

And I do that for a while. And I see what new doors that might open and kind of go from there.

Great. And I'm just noticing your your woman flare toe in the back.

Oh, great. So glad you like it. Yes. In the mail yesterday.

Yeah. So and so at YouTube, I always like to think about who, for example, who is your internal customer and why do they turn to your team claims counsel and for example, and what what problem do they need to solve when they turn to you?

So people come to our team when they want to talk externally about the business using data of any sort.

And as you can imagine, especially with tech companies who are so data driven, that's our our internal stakeholders are essentially the entire business.

So it could be anybody from the CEO and her communications team who are preparing a speech she's going to give and they want to be able to talk about a particular product that they're she's announcing or wants to highlight all the way to our sales team who wants to be able to go out and talk to partners or potential clients about what's happening with YouTube.

And so you can imagine that it really runs the gamut from high level sort of like hero claims, like key messages for executive speeches to very nuanced, more detailed information being shared with a very different audience.

That's great. So it sounds like you really work with everyone and at every level or any department they might depend on your team.

So I do. And it's fun to get to see a little bit of what's happening across the entire business.

I'm not super deep in any one area, but I have a really good 10,000 foot view of I don't want to say everything, but a lot of things.

Yeah, that's great. Yeah. And what markets or use cases is YouTube currently targeting to grow the business, would you say?

So I guess it's kind of like a question about your expansion plans.

Yeah. So I think there's three areas you'll see us really looking at over in the near future.

One is mobile creation.

So we recognize that lots of people are using mobile devices for creating content, not just consuming it.

And we launched shorts in India last year, and then just recently in the US, recognizing that, again, that like mobile creation, mobile experience is really important to our community.

So I think you'll see a lot of focus in that area.

Another area is around commerce. We know that people come to YouTube to learn about products.

They have favorite creators that they follow.

They want to know more about what recipes they're using for baking or whatever they're seeing in the video, wanting to be able to then buy that because these creators are sort of trusted sources for them.

So integrating that commerce experience into the YouTube experience more holistically.

And then the third area is around living rooms.

We're obviously seeing some really solid growth in people viewing YouTube content on TV screens, essentially.

And so last year in 2020, TV was actually our fastest growing platform.

So excited to see us continue to make the product experience for living room equally awesome to the other platforms that people are used to engaging with YouTube on.

Fascinating. And do you want to motivate a woman to go into a role like yours?

Yeah, I would definitely encourage it.

I think that a lot of times we're sort of directed along this notion that there is a job and then here are all of the things that you should do to plan for it to get there.

And it sort of forces us to pick either I want to do science or I want to do communications or I want to do policy.

And I would definitely encourage women to do something that they feel passionate about and to recognize that sometimes that spans a whole bunch of different sort of traditional job areas and that there are roles out there that allow you to leverage your sort of science nerdy side and your people side without having to pick one or the other and stay in that lane sort of indefinitely.

And as I speak with friends and colleagues or anyone, I do notice there's so many people out there who are looking for roles where they can leverage different skill sets and not have to do the same thing every day.

So it sounds like a great fit.

And I would love to hear about a pivotal moment or more than one if you have one in your career.

Yeah, I think my career has sort of been a series of pivots to the point that I haven't necessarily followed a linear path.

I think the first one is when I went from policy and sort of community engagement to engineering.

And to do that, I went to graduate school. I kind of woke up one day when I was working at this nonprofit and said, I want to be a transportation engineer.

And I had no idea what that meant. But I knew that transportation had a tremendous impact on the way that people live their lives, access to food and health care, jobs, access to education and social engagement.

So I wanted to be part of that.

And I really liked the fact that transportation engineering was the sort of science element of that very important social construct.

But I also know that a sociologist doesn't get to become an engineer without some coursework in the middle.

So I was really lucky and found a professor who was willing to actually a couple of professors who were willing to sort of help me through that process.

And then I would say the second big one was actually that move to Uber that Joe was such a part of, getting out of a more sort of traditional government and consulting space and into tech, which can be a tough move if you don't have that sort of traditional computer science or engineering background.

And then I think the most recent one is all of my roles up until WAG had been transportation focused.

And that job at WAG was the first time I decided to take all of the skills that I had used and go in a fairly different direction.

And I sort of felt like that was going to be a job where I either decided I really miss transportation and wanted to go back and do it forever, or perhaps I was ready to explore something that wasn't transportation related.

And obviously that's the direction I've gone so far.

Right. Yeah. I was searching for a transportation direction pun in there, but I couldn't come up with anything.

We'll drop it.

So talking about pivots and education and all of that, I wanted to ask you a little bit about pursuing additional education.

What's your take on that? Is this something that women or anyone should be thinking about, or do you think a bachelor and a master's is enough, or should we be lifelong learners?

What's your take?

I'm a huge fan of being lifelong learners. And I think education and learning can take on really different forms.

I think that there can be sort of more traditional, you know, going back for a full-time program, graduate degree, and an area you're really interested in is obviously one avenue.

I also think that there are structured learning opportunities that aren't quite so long and deep.

You know, for example, I recently started Stanford's Graduate School of Business, has an online one-year certification program that's business focused.

I just started that. I'm really excited to do that, obviously, while I keep my day job.

So it's not a full-time MBA, but will give me access to some really good information and people and learning opportunities.

And then I think that there's also just informal educational opportunities.

So joining groups of people who have knowledge that you would like to have or that you would like to learn from is as important to me as, you know, sitting in a sort of traditional classroom environment and learning that way.

Great. So surrounding yourself with people who you admire, at least a little bit more like, right?


So this might, you know, overlap with some of what we've discussed, but I guess what tips do you have for folks joining a technical company like ours or yours with no tech experience or no engineering background?

I think one is to learn a little bit about the tech piece of it.

Again, I think it helps you understand the underlying business and, you know, what people are working on and why it's important.

It doesn't mean you have to go get an engineering degree, but, you know, if you can do some informal reading on the product and the sort of technology underneath it that supports it, I think that can be really helpful.

And then I think the other side of it is understanding the business model.

So, and that doesn't require a tech background, but, you know, obviously if we're in these roles, we're there to support the growth and development of the business.

And so understanding what that business looks like is super important and you don't have to have an engineering degree to be able to do that.

And so I think those are the two sort of first parts.

The other thing is like, again, I'm just a big believer in networks and in people.

So find people who can be your sounding board, who can help you answer, who can help answer questions and then be that person for someone else.

So there's going to be somebody who wants to learn more about your part of the business and whatever you're working on, you know, be available for them.

And similarly, you know, look to others to help enlighten you.

And I think you'll get some good insights on the nuances of your particular organization that you won't necessarily get from, you know, reading documentation or understanding the business plan or the technology itself.

Great. So, and what career advice do you have for women in general?

And I know, I think there, I imagine there'll be a bit of overlap from what you just said, since I know in discussions before you've chatted a little bit about the power of networking.

And so I can't say enough about leveraging networks.

And I think that women probably don't do it as much or as often or as heavily as men traditionally have.

We should be using the people that we know.

You know, I have noticed that when I do ask for help, people seem very open about giving it.

They're glad to be asked. And it helps reinforce, you know, my behavior of asking for it, if I get a positive response.

And similarly, I like to be asked for help.

I like to be able to give help, especially when it comes to helping women in their career.

So I can't say enough about asking.

And I tell this story sometimes about one of the earlier jobs that I had, I applied for, and I didn't tell anybody who worked in that organization that I was applying for the job because I wanted it to feel like really clean.

And like I had earned it, you know, myself.

And like, I wasn't trying to, you know, have any favoritism.

And one of the women who worked at the organization saw my application because she was part of the hiring committee for it.

And she called me and she was like, why didn't you tell me you were applying for this job?

Like, I know a lot about the role.

I know the people. I could have helped you understand, you know, like what you were looking at.

And I was fairly early on in my career at that point.

And on the one hand, I was like, oh, I just got, you know, I just got sort of, you know, a good talking down by somebody very senior to me.

And there was a little bit of that that felt a little intimidating. But at the same time, I was so grateful for the message and for the hand that she was essentially extending.

And I took her up on that many, many more times over the course of my time in that organization, I ended up getting the job and was so grateful for that initial point of connection and have repeated that message to so many people, like, don't be afraid to ask the people you know, to help you.

Perfect, perfect example, right there of how willing and excited people are to help.

And it's definitely surprising a lot of the time, but great to know. And what is your, to that point, what is your advice for getting promoted?

I think the most important thing in thinking about promotion is being able to demonstrate impact and not being afraid to talk about it.

Don't assume that people know how hard you work to make something happen.

Be sure to talk about the steps that went into it. And then to talk about, like, why you did it, what you did and the, and how that's helped the company.

So, you know, coming up with an idea for a product or a tool or a process is great.

Being able to implement it is even better. And most important is being able to demonstrate why that thing you've been able to implement has value to the company.

So whether it's because you saved time or money, or because you brought more customers, or you've gotten more sticky customers who have, you know, want to stay around for longer, being able to demonstrate the impact of your work is so, so important.

And I think the other thing is that we sometimes forget how much we've done or how hard we've worked on something.

So one of the things that I like to, that I do myself and that I like to encourage other folks to do as well is just to keep a running list of everything you've worked on and what you did to make that happen.

Because by the time it comes time to think about a performance review or a promotion cycle, a lot of times you're so, we have recency bias and we can remember what we did in the last like three or six months, but we don't remember necessarily what we did over the course of the last year or two.

And so having that sort of cheat sheet can be so helpful in creating a really rich case for why you deserve a high performance review or a promotion.

Yeah, I think I love the idea of the running dock.

I think that's great advice. And to your point about recency bias, I think it can also be a, you know, a great way to, you know, remind yourself and your manager of your successes, you know, just in case, you know, what if the team as a whole, something happened the month before or something, you don't want to be judged based on that.

So that's great. And what does a work-life balance mean to you?

I know, especially now in COVID, this is a very important question, I think, and something we're all, I think, looking to define and reinforce for ourselves.

Yeah, I think it's really role and personal dependent.

And so like, I don't have kids. And so I don't have to worry or think about making sure that I have the availability for kids.

But I have had jobs where I've been expected to be available 24-7.

That was just the nature of the job. And I knew that going into it.

And so work -life balance in a 24-7 job means to me, like, I would go out in the middle of the day and get a haircut, because I knew that that, you know, a couple of hours at two o 'clock in the afternoon was more than going to be made up when somebody, you know, needed me at 10 o'clock at night.

And so I didn't worry about that, that part of it.

And I just made sure that I integrated my sort of the life part of work-life balance into my total day.

Now, my job is a little bit more traditional hours, there's not the same expectation to be available 24-7.

So I'm really sure to try to just carve out time for myself for the things that are important to me, a lunch break in the middle of the day to sort of refresh and reset and eat.

I think, you know, we get used to eating at our desks.

And that, you know, that's a less than ideal habit to fall into. I also like to carve out time for exercise, whether it's making sure that I get it, you know, in the morning before I start, or that I turn my computer off in time to feel like I can work out before it's bedtime.

So just making sure that you actually plan it into your day.

I think one of the my favorite stories around this was I was, when Michelle Obama was doing her Becoming book tour, I went to one of those events.

And she talked about sort of that acknowledgement of work-life balance for herself, and that she did exactly that she started to schedule exercise time, and she started to schedule in the time for kids school events, or making sure that she was available for them when they were home.

And at first, it was really hard, because there were always competing priorities.

And there was always somebody who felt like they needed her, and she felt like she needed to be available.

And then she started, she realized that if she said no, one of two things was going to happen, either they would move the event to a time that was did work for her, or they find someone else to do it.

And I think that like hearing somebody who was the First Lady of the United States say, oh, they'll find someone else to do it was just like this moment for me that like, I realized, okay, she's really important.

And there were other people who could do whatever they were needing her to do in that time, surely, if they needed in the immediacy, there's somebody else who can, you know, who can help out in the same way that I would cover for somebody or help someone out if they needed to take that time.

So I feel like if Michelle Obama can schedule exercise time into her day, I can surely find time to do the things that are important to me as well.

Love that story. And then that tactic. And so what does support mean to you?

And how have you supported women in your field? I think one of the most important things that we can do beyond the networking, which, you know, I've mentioned a whole bunch already, is just help amplify women's voices in our day to day work interactions.

You know, I think we've all probably been in a meeting where, you know, somebody, a woman had a great idea, and then it sort of got pushed aside, and then was, I'll call it resuscitated later in the same meeting by a man and treated as a new idea.

And just making sure that like, when something like that happens, that we amplify the original sort of idea creator's voice and say, you know, well, Amada actually, you know, had that great idea a few minutes ago, would love to dig into, you know, how what she was thinking there.

And it doesn't even have to be in structured meeting settings.

I think even in informal conversations, just making sure that we're giving women the time and the space that they deserve to have their voices heard.

Yeah. And I like the way that you go about it subtle and polite.

You don't have to be like, hey, that person already said, yeah, sometimes it does get to that.

But you know, it's good to start in an engaging and sort of collaborative style first.

Great. So often women are told what they could or should be doing, we even do it to ourselves.

So what is some advice that women shouldn't follow in your opinion?

I think women are often told that we need to be like tough or strong to be successful, especially in business.

And I don't necessarily think that that's true.

I think we need to be smart. But I think we also just need to be authentic and true to ourselves.

And some of the most successful women I've seen have demonstrated incredible vulnerabilities over the course of their careers, both in like very big ways, as well as in, you know, sort of small, again, conversational ways in our day to day work.

And so I think the best advice we shouldn't follow is that idea that we have to be tough and strong.

I say be authentic, be vulnerable, be yourself, and you're going to get, you know, you're going to get a lot further that way.

Yeah, that's great. And then we spoke a bit in the past about, you know, the power of making these authentic connections with people.

And I like that you mentioned that because, you know, sometimes we can get lost in only talking about work or just trying to be four buttoned up and professional.

So I'd love to hear a little bit more about your take on that. Yeah, I mean, I think that building relationships with people on an individual level is so important, because our work and our job is very much a snapshot in time.

And you have no idea, if you focus only on that, you have no idea where that person has been before what they have to, you know, to offer what challenges they've overcome, what challenges they're still working through, how you can be supportive and learn from them.

And you have no idea where they're going to go either. And so if you focus entirely on a sort of transactional relationship based on where each of you is in that specific moment, you lose out on the opportunity to grow together moving forward.

And I can't tell you how many times. I mean, Joe is a perfect example, right?

We work together at Uber have been, you know, you know, in two very different worlds for the last few years.

And, you know, here I am now having a conversation with you at a company he's working at.

And so you just have no idea where people are going to end up.

And I think it's so important that if you have an authentic relationship, you'll be able to grow together as you kind of drift apart and come back together.

I really like that. Something to think about. So actually got a couple seconds, a little bit under two minutes, but I definitely wanted to ask you about YouTube.

Do you see the platform evolving into something else?

Or is that something you're not thinking about yet? Or is it a secret? Well, I think, I mean, I think from a sort of like technical and business perspective, those three areas I mentioned before are sort of key focuses for us.

For me personally, I'm just really excited about the connectivity that YouTube presents and this opportunity to bring together people with common interests from all over the world.

I love learning new things on YouTube. I, you know, I learn about musical artists from country from other countries that I might not otherwise have ever had exposure to that way.

I learn a lot about, I love to watch YouTube for home improvement and home remodeling things.

I rewired a little rewiring using some YouTube videos.

And so I think just that sense of community and connectivity, which I think is probably a pretty consistent theme in my life is true at YouTube as well.

And I'm excited to see how we're going to grow as a platform and continue to promote that sense of community.

That's great. Can definitely relate to that.

Anytime I'm trying to set something up at home or install anything, definitely can't do it without YouTube.

So Heather, thank you so much for your time today.

And then I hope to speak with you again soon. And I'm very excited to follow the rest of your exciting career trajectory and stay in touch.

So thank you so much.

Thank you. And thanks for the chance to chat today and also to connect. And I also look forward to staying in touch.

I'm sure you and I will overlap many, many times.

Fantastic. So folks, please see the Cloudflare TV schedule and join us.

Well, I usually say join us for our next Women in Flair, but this might be one of the last ones.

It was a great month and thank you all. And don't forget to choose to challenge this month.

All right. Thank you. Thanks.

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