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A geek is a geek wherever you are: TechWomen 2011

“This trip was worth everything I left behind for it. Now I have 36 sisters.” Thekra Dwairi is one of 37 women to participate in the inaugural TechWomen program funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). The program paired women in Silicon Valley with their counterparts in the Middle East and North Africa for a professional mentorship and exchange program at leading technology companies.

Cisco had the honor of hosting the closing session for this 5 week program at its San Jose, CA headquarters. Each of the mentees presented their key technical and cultural learnings as well as their action plans for when they returned to their home countries: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, West Bank and Gaza.

Loubna Haouam of Algeria

Loubna Haouam discusses her goals upon returning to Algeria: exchanging knowledge, encouraging women to learn English and providing computer access

The mentees ranged widely in terms of their backgrounds.   Some work for international corporations, while others are local start-up founders.  Some are world travelers. One woman mentioned that this is her first time out of her hometown!  It was humbling to hear about the challenges these women manage on a day-to-day basis.  Just applying for the TechWomen program was a challenge for Egyptian participants.  The application deadline, February 1, was at the same time that the government shut down the internet—happily, an extension was provided. Read More »

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Simply Making a Big Impact

Often doing something simple can make a big impact.

First impressions are powerful. You have only a few seconds to make a favorable one. A business card is one of the first tangible ways we present ourselves and our company to others. It makes a statement of not only who we are, but what our company stands for. Imagine doing one effortless act that can make a big difference and immediately open doors for you and your company the first time you meet someone.

I have found that having my contact information printed in Braille on my Cisco business card has greatly influenced my interactions with others. I had received a Braille card at a conference and when I returned to the office, asked our vendor to offer Braille as an option for all Cisco employees. It was a simple change to include this option and it has provided an easy way to show people outside of Cisco our commitment to creating an inclusive environment where everyone is encouraged to contribute to their full potential.

Every time I give someone my card, it generates a conversation about Cisco’s inclusion and diversity philosophy and how proud I am to work for a company that focuses on these values. I’ve been able to explain how our culture helps ensure that many different viewpoints and ideas are brought to the table, so we can create the best and most innovative products and services. And people I don’t know, immediately get a glimpse about what is important to me.

Having a Braille business card has also given our sales people with a way to connect better with our customers. By showing right away that we share similar values with them, it has started conversations that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

In one case, one of our sales directors met with a customer in the Middle East for the first time. After handing the customer his Braille business card, it triggered a rich discussion about Cisco’s commitment to people with disabilities and philosophy of including everyone. That led to a deeper connection with the customer and opened the door to more opportunities.

Better connections with customers. More sales opportunities. Deeper conversations with colleagues and potential talent. A quick way to show Cisco’s and your commitment to inclusion and diversity. Big and lasting impacts. And all from the simple act of having a Braille business card.

What small, simple things are you doing to create an inclusive world?

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5,6,7,8… Cisco Step Challenge – encouraging UK employees to get involved in the Olympics

Two weeks ago I shared my interview with Sue Hunt, Director of Strategic Programmes at London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games on the subject of Inclusion and Diversity – what Inclusion and Diversity means to LOCOG and how they encourage it while faced with the challenge of an immovable deadline.

As part of our role as proud supporter and network infrastructure provider of London 2012, Cisco UK is involved in a couple of internal activities to encourage its employees to get involved in the Games. One of these activities is the Cisco Step Challenge, a 4-week challenge to encourage people to take the internationally recommended 10,000 steps per day. Providing you walked the minimum 70,000 steps per week, you were put into the prize draw for a pair of tickets to see a Paralympic Games event.

Employees across the UK joined together to formed teams and participated in the challenge. It wasn’t about fundraising or getting sweaty and struggling to find time to fit in extra exercise. It was about participation, improving your health and well being, team work and above all, having fun. A Facebook page and internal community was set up for participants to share words of encouragement and “top tips” for their fellow steppers such as park further away from your office building, use the stairs and not the lift, dancing burns more calories than walking and if you walk with children you walk more steps as you have to go back to get them every 200 yards!

The Step Challenge was very successful in engaging a large number of employees across the UK to participate in a sports challenge and raising awareness about how far you have to walk to achieve the recommended average of 10,000 steps. And one of the great things about it was that you could participate regardless of your age, gender, fitness levels, ethnicity, religion and belief or sexual orientation.

Inclusion and Diversity is a key component of Cisco’s culture and we believe that a truly inclusive and diverse workforce is critical to the success of our company and our people. The Step Challenge was advertised as “a challenge for everyone” and strongly encourage that everyone who wished to attend did so. Unfortunately we did not have anyone with a visual disability participate in the challenge and the team intends to look into this as a key area of focus for us next year. I think this is a real lesson for us all, that it’s not enough to open an opportunity to everyone – we need to actively encourage Inclusion and Diversity and incorporate it into our strategy for success.

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Interview with London 2012 Committee on Inclusion and Diversity

Cisco is the proud supporter and network infrastructure provider of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The 2012 Games aim to be the most connected games to date and Cisco are supplying the routing, switching, firewall, IP telephony and Software as a Service platform to fulfil this aim and transform the Olympic experience for the global audience. Click here to access Cisco’s London 2012 page.

The strong and collaborative partnership Cisco has with LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games) is not just confined to a business relationship. We are both fully committed to Inclusion and Diversity – understanding the importance of diversity and the value it brings and embracing difference whether that’s age, disability, gender, ethnicity, religion and belief or sexual orientation (you may recall my previous blog post on this topic).

And we aren’t just talking about fostering an inclusive and diverse workforce – it’s also about using Inclusive and Diverse practices to better serve our global customers and partners. For LOCOG, this means all the people around the world who will be flying into London, one of the most diverse cities in the world. And LOCOG is up against an additional challenge – its immovable deadline.

I decided to find out a bit more about this topic and reached out to Sue Hunt, Director of Strategic Programmes at LOCOG. If you have any comments about this post, please post them below.

Cisco UK is also involved in a number of internal activities to encourage its employees to get involved in the London 2012 Olympics. Stay tuned for more on this topic.

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Doing Both – The Life of a 21st Century Working Parent

When I was preparing to return to work from maternity leave it appeared to me at the time that I had a work-life balance choice – Full time or part time? Career or job? Businesswoman or mother? Financial security or insecurity? I felt torn. I had the career, but now I had the kid too, how on earth was this going to work? I was already an expert at the work-life balance, but this was going to need more. I had jested with friends and colleagues about work-life integration but suddenly I had my first inkling that this might just need to apply to me when I started to work through exactly what this choice was going to mean to my life.

My son cannot be dropped off at nursery before 8am – But I need to leave earlier than that to be in the office for a 9am meeting.

My son has to be picked up from nursery before 6pm – But I need to be on a call with US colleagues at 6.30pm.

I really want to take my son to swimming lessons – But I work full time and I don’t want to burn half my free time at the weekend.

I want to meet with colleagues around the world – But I cannot keep getting overnight babysitters to allow me to travel.

I want to meet regularly with my team -But I struggle to justify the travel time it will burn.

I want to be able to spend time with other mums as my support network – But they only meet up on Fridays.

I want to spend more than 30mins in the evening with my son before he goes to bed – But I want to be successful in my career and achieve my potential in my current job role.

I want to commit enough time to both my work AND my son. Surely this was an impossible task.

Well, it was hard returning, but what materialised quite quickly was one clear thing. I could make it work. I discovered that all the tools and flexibility that Cisco provides that I had previously taken for granted were quickly proving to be the glue that would allow me to do both. Smartphone, Laptop, Webex, Bluetooth car kit, home virtual office, video telephony, video conferencing, Telepresence, instant messaging, presence enabled apps, unified communications, cloud based corporate apps, to name but a few, phew! – all contribute to me truly being able to work from anywhere, anytime.

Sure, sometimes I have the mobile phone on speaker while I bath my son and yes, I spend most of my car journeys on the phone (hands free of course). OK, I often work in the evenings catching up on email and I have to manage my diary with laser precision. But guess what, I am loving my job, I am loving every minute I spend with my son and one year on, the application of technology in my working environment is allowing me to do both. It works, and it works because of the technology, and I didn’t have to choose between mother or career. I chose a third way,  to try and do both, and I firmly believe I made the right decision and have achieved a work-life balance that works.

So what I have learnt is that every single one of us has a life outside work and these cool tools we have, and these cool companies that value our output, not our input, are changing our working lives forever. Forever and for the better and allowing us to choose both in a way we have never have before. And I choose to do both, because it is the 21st century so lucky for me, because I can.