Cloudflare TV

Unfiltered: #ChooseToChallenge with Lori Nishiura Mackenzie

Presented by Janet Van Huysse, Lori Nishiura Mackenzie
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.


Transcript (Beta)

Hello, Cloudflare TV. Happy Women's Empowerment Month. My name is Janet Van Huysse, and I am the head of people here at Cloudflare, and we're excited about this special edition, Choose to Challenge, a special edition of Unfiltered.

Unfiltered is some Cloudflare TV content that's brought to you by Womenflare, which is our employee resource group, and the mission of Womenflare is to inspire and elevate all who identify as women.

In celebrating this month, we're wrapping up the month.

We're hosting episodes of Unfiltered, where we'll be chatting with inspirational women 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 you to our guest today, Lori Mackenzie.

Lori, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for having me.

Yes, thank you. Let's start by telling folks about yourself and what it is that you do.

Thanks. I work at Stanford Graduate School of Business, which is the picture you can see in my background.

I'm the lead strategist for diversity, equity, inclusion there, and I also work at the Stanford VMware Women's Leadership Innovation Lab, which is probably the longest name you've ever heard, but we do research on what it takes to advance women in organizations.

I'm so excited to talk to you today. I cannot wait to dive in. Before we do, a quick note to our viewers, if anyone does have questions that they would like Lori to answer, feel free to submit them by emailing us at

That's You can find the banner right below this video.

All right, Lori, so I cannot wait to get to the things that you're working on now, but I actually want to start at the beginning.

You've had such a great career.

Can you walk us through big moments and learnings along the way?

My first job out of college was working for a non-profit in New York. There were three of us in a one-bedroom apartment, and the reason why I loved this non-profit is we set up work exchange programs for students all over the world.

The reason we did it was because we believed that there would be greater global understanding if we did this work exchange.

It was called ISAC. I think it taught me a lot about what it means to work in a mission-driven organization, to have big dreams at work.

I think that's a message I've never forgotten. I realized, however, that companies were the ones giving these internships, providing funding for the organization, and I wanted to spend more time inside the organizations.

I wound up in communications and marketing, which I think when I was a child I wouldn't have said, I want to grow up and be in communications and marketing, but it was the perfect job.

I love the idea of translating what's great about a product or an idea and making it useful and accessible to lots of people.

I think my highlight of my career was falling into communications and marketing, where I've kind of been ever since, even though I work at a university in more of a research or change agent role now.

Yeah, you have done marketing and brand work at some really big names like Apple and Procter & Gamble.

I would love for you to talk about how those early experiences really shaped you.

I loved those experiences. I love working with really smart people who know so much about what they're doing.

Especially my time at Procter & Gamble, I learned so much about what it takes to build a brand.

It's so complex to see your product, see its value, think about how its value can make a difference to your consumers, and those are lessons I've never forgotten.

I say now that what I do is I market ideas in the marketplace of knowledge, and so I hope that I'm still continuing to know my products or my research and know how it can make an impact for people in their everyday lives.

Yeah, when you were talking about your time at the non-profit and you said how it really kind of impacted you to be a mission-driven company, and so then kind of knowing that you're at Apple and Procter & Gamble, I could kind of see that thread continue even after you left the non-profit world.

All right, so in the last decade, you made a shift, right? You've really focused on advancing gender equality, and so I'm really curious to know, you're doing communications, brand marketing, things of these really global, like, world-class companies, and then you make this shift.

Can you tell us about that moment or that story of deciding to focus on this?

Absolutely. I think I was looking for what my next phase of my mission was, and it came when I was pregnant with my second child, who is my daughter, and I remember just crying and crying.

It wasn't just the hormones. I was just looking at the state of girls and women in the world and seeing how in a war, women are often the victims of violence, how in economies, single mothers are often the ones trying to lift up families, and I was in a little bit of despair about that.

My friend said to me, you can cry or you can do something about it, and I said, what are you talking about?

And she told me about investing in women as a way to create positive change, and I was hooked.

I started, you know, volunteering at non-profits, educating myself.

I wrote a paper about it, and the job randomly came up on a parents club email list, apply for this gender research institute at Stanford, and I said, I guess I can, I could do that, so I just applied to the online forum.

It was a good time. They were looking for someone who had external facing experience.

I was looking to educate myself and learn more about how to create change for gender equality, and we found each other, and that it's, I've been here for 13 years, and I love it.

That's such a crazy story, how you just, like, on a parent network thing, here's, here's a job.

As you're, as you're processing all that, you know, as you're becoming a mother to a daughter and really looking at the world through that filter, I'm so glad I asked.

That was a really defining moment. It sounds like it was. Well, here's the little secret.

I went to Berkeley, UC Berkeley, which is where I am right now, Stanford, where you are now, and I had to unscrew, I didn't have to, but I unscrewed my Go Bears license plate frame before my interview.

I thought it would be bad luck, and I haven't put it back on, but it's there in my heart.

You thought someone would come to the parking lot and be like, you know, she was, she did really great at the interview, but you know, she had a Cal bumper sticker.

Yeah. Yeah, no, that, that rivalry runs deep.

Yes. Okay, that's the first time I've ever heard anyone unscrew a license plate holder, going, but awesome.

You deserve that job, Lori.

I'm glad they were smart enough to give it to you. Okay, so as you think about the last decade and your last 12 years where you've been working on this, where, where have you seen like the most progress?

No, I think our awareness that gender equality is an issue that we need to tackle.

One of my, one of our scholars called women's equality the no problem problem.

It's a problem that in the past people said, oh, there's no problem.

Look, there's women here and women there.

I think the biggest part of progress has been showing that there are differences in women's advancement and that we need to band together to create change.

And so I'm excited about the kinds of allies and collaborators I get to work with to create this goal of a more equal world where everyone thrives.

Oh, I love that.

Yeah. The no problem problem. I hadn't, yeah. I feel like, yeah, in the last decade, that conversation has changed so much that you're not, like, I feel like I'm not hearing that anymore.

I'm hearing, you know, kind of other things. But there is more that, that recognition that, yeah, there's disparity here, bias, discrimination.

And we've got to, like, just, you know, we have to tackle it head on.

Where, I guess, on the opposite end, like, where do you feel like we're still stuck, like 12 years in, like, I can't believe we're still stuck here.

Some of the challenges that we have made progress.

So the work that we need to do is the hard work, the work that, you know, many organizations still do have low hanging fruit that they can address for women's equity.

But some of the real work is really deep.

For example, how do you value leadership? Our traditional values of leadership, we say we want a strong, decisive, determined leader.

And when we say that, the person who comes to mind is typically a man.

And when we say, oh, there's a woman, she looks really great.

I love working with her. She's so supportive.

It's a mismatch for those traditional markers of leadership. So what we need to do, for example, is to redefine leadership, to think about all of what it takes to be a great leader, decisive and supportive, brilliant and thoughtful.

If we see leadership in those broader terms, more people will come to our mind when we think about who to promote or who to put on stage.

That's a lot of deep work. We're often married to those traditional markers of success, to our legacy ideas.

And it's time to disrupt those and create and truly value a broader definition of leadership.

And that's a lot of hard work when we're used to doing this in very traditional ways.

Yeah, I mean, it's hard work, like just in the redefining of it. And then the even heavier lift of like breaking your pattern recognition, right?

Like this is we're used to seeing, right?

And how do you break that? Like, yeah, that's definitely some hard work, but you're doing the work.

And so I've had a really good time kind of researching more about your work, preparing for our conversation today.

And so I know that one of the things that you talk about at Stanford's Graduate School of Business is pioneering small wins, and I loved that concept.

So can you tell us more about what that means and some examples of the small wins that have been really meaningful for you?

Yeah, sure. And hopefully for the people I work with, what the idea is, is that when you think about creating a more equal world, it can be a little overwhelming.

There's an awful lot we have to do, tackling big societal problems.

It can be discouraging to have so much work at hand, but you say, well, let's start with one distinct target area of change, an area where we need to make progress.

We have a lot of agreement we need to make progress, and we have resources.

It could be people, it could be opportunities to make it happen. Let's see what we can do in this area.

Maybe it's our first internship program from a community where we usually don't have people who want to be members of our MBA class.

Maybe it's figuring out how our recruiting can be more inclusive. Take one target area of change, build momentum, figure out how to do it better, assess it and say, we did make progress.

Then take those learnings about how change happens here and apply it to the next target area of change.

And so one step at a time, build the momentum, which over time looks like a movement, but you don't start with saying we have to do it all.

You start with something doable, build your momentum and will gain support.

And over time, when I look at what we've done at the business school, just in a couple of years, it's exciting one small change at a time.

Yeah. Yeah.

I like that, like boiling the ocean. One, you're not going to see the progress and two, it's going to take a long time.

So yeah, the small wins that you can just build on.

And I love that you're saying, and you learn from them, right? You get to learn along the way and sometimes it doesn't get easier and sometimes things won't work that you thought would, but all of that is making you smarter and progress.

And yeah, I love that concept of little wins. The other thing that I loved reading about is your myths around inclusion.

And I've got a few, I've got some faves, but I want you, if you would share with our listeners, what are the myths?

Can you walk us through them? Sure. There's a lot of sense when I say we want a more inclusive workplace, what people think.

One of the things people think is that it will be really smooth sailings when there's inclusion, we'll all just be getting along and things will be so much easier.

And that's a myth because when you have diversity and everyone is included and they voice their ideas, it's a little bit more, not confrontational, but there's more dissent.

So if I say, oh, this is obviously the target market.

And someone says, well, actually we haven't considered that.

That's the value of inclusion that someone was able to say, maybe not, but we don't always like that.

We kind of like it when everyone agrees with us. So one of the myths of inclusion is that we'll all have similar or aligned ideas.

The value of diversity is that we'll all bring our diverse perspectives together to build better outcomes, but that can be more challenging.

And it turns out we don't always like to think harder and work harder.

So inclusion often can ruffle our sense of ease, but the outcome's better.

And hopefully people will start to value that sense of grappling with things with people who aren't like us or who don't always have the same ideas we have.

That would be the day I know inclusion has busted the myth is when we start to look for people who push our thinking versus align with our thinking.

That's so good. Just thinking about how we're hiring so much and really trying to think about how do you build the strongest teams?

And you really do want that diversity.

So I love this idea of dissent versus people who are agreeing with you.

And I remember some research that was proving this more diverse teams make better decisions.

And they were saying that, yeah, it kind of takes longer and in it, and the process is messier.

And even when you left, you'd ask the individual members of the team, like, how did you think you do?

How did you think you did?

And they would kind of all be like, I don't think we did okay. And then it turns out like highest performing teams.

So. And when the humongous team, when you ask them how they did, they're like, we killed it.

But then their scores are lower.

So we often think quickly coming together and aligning is success. And that's not always the case.

Yeah. No, someone like I've, I do love harmony. So I have to remind myself that, yeah, this diversity and dissent, you know, that's what we want.

That's how we're going to have better outcomes. You know, what are the, what are the myths that I loved was, you said, like in the era of big data, focus on the few.

And I realize that, you know, this concept of small wins that I love don't focus on the few, but can you tell us about that myth, focus on the few?


When you look at organizations, there tend to be a lot of certain demographic groups, for example, and fewer of others.

And some, they might even say if they did an analysis, aren't even statistically significant.

How can we look at data where we only have, let's say one middle aged Asian woman, let's take her out of the equation or lump her together with all women.

What you've done is lost a chance to find a unique lens into your organization.

For example, the only person of a certain demographic group might have deep insights into the way your culture might be broken.

That if you lump them together into another group, those unique insights would be missing.

Those unique insights might give you the key that you've been looking for to create more inclusion.

Likely those insights benefit so many people.

But if you start from, let's take what works for most people and try to then custom fit it to the one person, likely you have to undo a lot of things.

But if you start with, let's start with that perspective. In addition to what works, let's look at all of this together and build from there.

You won't have to undo things later.

So it might feel like more work to start with, but hopefully it'll be less work when you're scaling programs and trying to figure out how to create real sustainable change where all people can thrive.

Yeah. See, I love that. I say often that, you know, if you just listen to the majority, you are by definition going to lose underrepresented voices, right?

Like, well, most people aren't complaining about that.

So it must not be a problem. And, you know, we have a lot of employee resource groups at Cloudflare.

Most of them are, you know, communities from underrepresented backgrounds or underrepresented in tech.

And that's one of the big, big values I feel like I, especially as the head of people, get out of them at Cloudflare is like, help me understand that experience and that voice, the experience of underrepresented folks at Cloudflare, because, you know, it's just like going to get drowned out in an employee survey or other things.

So I really love this. Well, I love how you frame it with like in an era of big data and then like the focus on the few.

So I hope everyone listening like took notes for that one.

That one is a good one. Any other one of the myths that you want to share?

We can move on. I want to talk about like, you know, your board experience, but I love the myths on inclusion.

So if there's one more you want to share, happy to give that some time.

You know, one myth I like to bust is when people say, I posted my job, but no women or underrepresented minorities applied.

What's going on with them?

And I recommend people flip the question. Why isn't your job appealing to women and underrepresented minorities?

And so the myth is often there's something going on out there that doesn't have them be interested in exactly what everyone else has liked before.

And it's such points to how hard it is to break up our sense of what success looks like and to break up that sense of, well, everyone would like a job like this.

And to consider maybe there are parts of the way we describe ourselves or our jobs that aren't appealing by changing those, by asking people from those communities, why is, why isn't my job appealing and fixing it and coming up with authentic ways you could be more welcoming to people?

One example is if you just write in your job description that you are a place where people can really grow and learn, that you value the journey, not just people who come ready with, you know, working at the best tech companies or the best universities.

That is a signal to people that you're a place where they could be seen as someone with potential.

And just that introduction of that language can make your job more appealing.

But if you didn't ask like, why isn't our job appealing to people?

You probably wouldn't have that insight and likely jobs where people grow and develop are jobs where lots of people would want to be part of.

Yeah. I love that. I love these small things, right? I remember when I learned that if you just, you know, referrals have, you know, can have mixed results at companies or like can be great for fast hiring, but they also tend to breed homogeny because our networks tend to look like us.

So remember reading about some research that showed, if you just ask the question or when you ask for referrals, say, and you know, we're interested in referrals that will help increase the diversity of our team.

Or if you can give me a referral of someone from an underrepresented background for this team, how that increases your referrals from, you know, or gives you a more diverse pipeline, more diverse referrals.

And it's just so simple.

It's just, just say that little thing at the end. Those people are in your network and you think they're great.

They just didn't come to mind automatically because of the way our brains work.

So what you're doing is really smart.

You're causing people to slow down out of an automatic response and think deeply about their networks versus giving who's top of mind.

And likely that person is just as, or more qualified than the first person.

Their brain just didn't access it so quickly.

So taking a time, asking yourself these questions are the kinds of diversity hacks that you can do to get your brain to think beyond what's automatic.

The diversity hacks. That's good. So, yeah, I'm really interested in talking about being on a board.

There's lots of conversation about, you know, women on boards and you're so active.

So I'd love to hear about the organizations that you, whose board do you serve on?

And then what kind of, when you think about joining a board, you know, what kind of things are you, do you consider before making that decision?

That's a great question because oftentimes women are saying who wants me on a board?

And I think it's just as important to think, where do you want to serve and where are your skills valued, right?

And we often underestimate ourselves.

So it might be good to do this in conversation with a partner or somebody that you can think through this with, because you might underestimate the value you're bringing to the board.

So one of my favorite boards is the board of Alliance for Girls.

It's an alliance of girls serving organization. It's the largest in the country, and we serve hundreds and thousands of girls in the Bay area through our alliance members.

And our aim is to advance the causes that will support the ecosystem so that girls can thrive.

And the reason why I was really attracted to this organization, I guess there's several reasons.

When a lot of the work I do at Stanford is focused at professional women or adult women.

And I felt like my heart started this whole journey with my daughter.

And so my board service complements what I do at work and something that's really important to me.

And the executive director Emma Meyerson is so remarkable that I felt like supporting her leadership, the organization.

It was such a win-win. It's so delightful.

And as someone who works at a university, it's often a compliment to the other people on the board because I work with a lot of researchers.

So where a lot of people bring practical experience, I might bring the research underpinnings that support our work.

So I think about where my skills complements and what I'm passionate about.

And the other board I'm on is Watermark, which is the Bay area's largest network of women.

And the reason I love it is at work at Stanford, I mostly work with people within my network.

Watermark is a network of all women from all walks of life and professions.

So it broadens my sense of community in really beautiful ways.

And part of our mission at Watermark is to redefine leadership. So it really fits how we as women broadly define, see ourselves contributing to our communities and to our organizations.

And so again, it was an organization that complemented the work I do in really positive ways and that I really believe in the mission of it.

I love this idea of sitting down maybe with a partner or someone who knows you well and thinking through where could I bring value and where would I come light up if I was a part of.

So if someone that's listening now has been like, oh, I've always wanted to serve on a board, but I just don't even know how to get started.

Any advice of how to get started? You know, there are a couple of great seminars you can go to.

Watermark has some for women interested in board.

Our Changemaker Conference just had it. How Women Lead is another amazing organization for women to find out a little bit more about board service.

And at Stanford, we have the Rock Center for Corporate Governance that also does Director's College, which is an educational program about corporate governance for people serving on for -profit mostly, but also non-profit boards.

So I would say educate yourself on what the role is. What does it mean when it says you have fiduciary responsibility over the organization?

And what is a governance committee or a nomination committee?

What does that mean? And what role would I have to work on?

And then the thing I did was I just, in the areas I'm interested in, I start following organizations.

I go to conferences. I follow people on LinkedIn.

I educate myself on who's working in the spaces that I'm interested in.

And over time, kind of build a relationship with that space. And so with Watermark, I'm lucky because I work at a research institute.

I spoke at one of their conferences.

That got me hooked. And then I just kept engaging more deeply and deeply.

It just started to make sense that I wanted to contribute in a more meaningful way.

So it's the education and follow and belong to organizations that you might someday want to play a bigger role in.

Yeah, I love that. That's great advice.

Thank you. So this year's International Women's Day theme is Choose to Challenge.

And I feel like 2020 challenged us enough. But as we think forward to this year, what does that mean to you?

How are you thinking about Choose to Challenge in 2021?

You know, there are a lot of ways where even I, and this is my job, where I kind of feel like, oh, maybe in this one area, I'll take a break or I'll just, you know, this is my chance to not always raise my hand.

And I think what Choose to Challenge is saying is that maybe there's an area where I and others haven't really gone there yet.

And maybe this is the year to do it. We're facing such unprecedented outcomes for so many people in our society.

And what would it be like for you to say through all of this, I challenged that, where before maybe I was nervous or afraid to, I left this month with the knowledge that I did it.

And for me, one of those challenges kind of came upon me. I've always known myself as a Japanese American person.

But the current events have really asked me to step up in my Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

I've been weighing in a lot more on what the university can do and what other communities can do in ways that I've kind of thought myself as an advocate.

And I've really doubled down and challenged stereotypes about Asians during this time.

And that was something I think was always integrated into what I did, but has become something I've really leaned into and been authentic about some of the biases and discriminations I've faced, my family's faced, and been a little bit vulnerable about admitting them.

I kind of like to be known as someone who's successful and has done a lot of things.

And to admit things that were hard or challenging, I think took a little bit of maybe oomph inside of me.

I'm so glad that I'm doing that. And I don't think I'll stop doing it even after this month is over.

Laurie, you're inspiring me.

You're making me think about, where haven't I leaned in enough? And I would get as excited as you are talking about leaning in, especially with the courage and sensitivity around what you're leaning in.

You've really inspired me, so thank you.

We have just under two minutes left. And so I always like to end on a positive note.

What's one thing that you're really excited or hopeful about in regards to the future of gender equality?

One thing I'm really excited about is the visibility of women leaders, especially with our Vice President Kamala Harris.

And here's what I hope about that.

Don't just assume that because we've broken this glass ceiling, it will be broken for everyone.

Instead, use this as an opportunity to take a leap in a way that she did, that every day she is.

And I think, for while I was wearing my pearls, wear your pearls and take a leap.

I'm excited about some really great glass ceilings, especially for women of color being broken.

And I say, just support them and follow suit. Yeah, I love that. That's a great example.

Thanks, Laurie. So we have just a minute left. So I saved some rapid-fired questions.

So we'll end with them. Are you ready? I'm ready. Text or talk?

Text. You do. I'm an introvert. Sitting desk or standing desk? It goes up and down.

I'm standing now. Coffee or tea? Tea. Speak every language in the world or talk to animals?

Talk to animals. Oh, really? I know. I kind of want to know what my cats are thinking.

Oh, especially my dogs. We're always like, what is he thinking?

Like joyful thoughts is what I think dogs think, right? Happy all the time.

Treat, treat, treat, treat, treat. How about your go-to karaoke song? Oh, I don't have any.

Well, we're going to get you one. Okay, before we come on again, I'd love to have you back.

This was really wonderful. Thank you so much for joining us.

We'll get you a karaoke song. Thank you. I'm looking forward to it.

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