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Old Boys? Meet the New Girls!

If you look at the numbers, the picture is bleak for women working in technology.

According to new research conducted by The Wall Street Journal, there is still a huge gender gap worldwide. Of the eight technology companies profiled, (ebay, Apple, LinkedIn, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, and Twitter) ebay leads the pack with only 24% of women in technology roles; Twitter trails with 10%.

Is the outlook really that bleak? Here’s a look at several promising initiatives aimed at closing the tech gender gap:

1. Starting early

We’ve finally realised that getting more women working in tech involves getting them interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) at a young age. The UK-based organisation WISE (Women In Science and Engineering) has a mission to get 1 million more women in the UK STEM workforce. They offer programs designed to “boost the talent pool from classroom to boardroom” – including an initiative that gives teenage girls funding and support to launch their own science or tech-based businesses.

At Cisco we have a program called Girls Power Tech in support of International Girls in ICT Day, an initiative sponsored and supported by member states of the International Telecommunication Union, an agency of the United Nations, since 2010. Girls Power Tech is a global mentoring initiative which helps students learn about the opportunities that the technology sector holds and is fuelled by 1,000 Cisco employees who volunteer their time with 3,000 adolescent girls in more than 50 countries.

2. Challenging stereotypes

By now, you’ve probably heard about the hash tag #ILookLikeAnEngineer which aims to dispel myths about how women in STEM industries look. The campaign was started by Isis Wenger, a San Francisco-based software engineer who set out to show that appearance has no bearing on a person’s abilities or profession.

Women at Cisco heard her loud and clear. They’ve added their photos and voices to the chorus, demonstrating that tech leaders come in all shapes, sizes and – yes – genders. Check out #ILookLikeAnEngineer and #WeAreCisco on Twitter to see more posts from smart, skilled, engineers.

3. Jump starting tech careers
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Kathryn Parsons, multi-award winning entrepreneur and co-founder of London based tech start-up Decoded, which teaches people how to code in a day.

Notably, women make up more than half of Decoded’s staff – and the company is particularly keen on promoting the work of women in tech. As Parsons explains in a recent interview with Inspiring Fifty:   “We’ve had hundreds of women at Decoded and it’s a real 50:50 split between both sexes. It’s been an incredible experience witnessing the empowering effect that acquiring digital skills has on women at Decoded. We really are in the midst of a revolution, which is also an opportunity to break down some of the traditional hierarchies that rarely put women at the top.”

4. Moving toward a meritocracy

I’m also starting to hear more and more anecdotal evidence that women in tech are being judged by their contributions instead of their gender.

This sentiment is echoed by Donna Selapa, director of a digital agency, in an article in the Guardian entitled, “The digital industry isn’t a boys club, it’s all about meritocracy.” She argues: “Anything tech and digitally focused tends to be pigeonholed as being a ‘boys’ club’ when, in my experience, it has been anything but. As a very young industry, digital, especially digital creative, has managed to forge itself from a blank canvas. It doesn’t face deeply ingrained and historical gender inequality like other more established career paths. I believe this gives talented women and men equal opportunity to shine.”

5. Crossing the final frontier
What will be the tipping point for women in tech? When men care as deeply about gender equality as women do.

In Time Magazine, writer Alyce Lomax nails it on the head when she writes, “The truth is, if women start gaining more ground in the workforce, it doesn’t mean men have to lose out. The zero sum game mentality, implying someone always has to lose — which has also permeated our marketplace, in more areas than this — has got to go. If we tackle issues like diversity, innovation, businesses with strong, robust strategies, and overall value creation should skyrocket.”

Old boys – meet the new girls!

What do you think? Are times changing, despite what statistics show?

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Fixing Broken Windows: Shattered Myths About the Glass Ceiling

Leading organisations now realise that improving the representation of female leaders is crucial to business success. In fact, according to research from McKinsey, “Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

Where are all the women?

Cisco is a shining exemplar of gender diversity at the executive leadership level.

A look at our Executive Leadership “wheel” shows a well-balanced team, equal parts male and female.  But many companies across the globe would present an extremely lopsided wheel.   A recent Harvard Business Review article notes the lack of women executive officers in the Fortune 500 and asks this compelling question: “Why, when there’s so much conversation about the topic, are the numbers not moving?”

Before the top comes the middle

Why indeed? I believe there are few women at the top of the corporate ladder because companies are not focused on women working in the middle levels – middle-women, if you like. In her brilliant essay in The Guardian, “Forget the glass ceiling, we need to fix the broken windows first,” Jean Martin explains this phenomenon, “In many cases, women are not held back because of a glass ceiling but because of the cumulative effect of the micro-issues that women face day after day that slows their journey, or stops them getting to the top.”

Said another way, they never reach the ultimate destination because the middle of the journey is such a hard slog.

Fixing broken windows

Martin proposes a solution based on the crime prevention strategy known as the “broken widows” approach which asserts that small acts of crime (littering, graffiti, broken windows) escalate to more serious crimes if left unaddressed. She explains, “Translating this into the business world, preventative measures to fix the fairly minor day-to-day issues must be taken now. The smart employer puts the focus on understanding and engaging female employees just as they start to consider their careers. This means engaging in proper discussions with female staff about career aspirations early on, ensuring there are female role models within the company and making flexible working the norm rather than the exception.”

So what can companies do to help middle-women survive and thrive? Here are 5 ideas:

1. Begin at the beginning 

Attracting more female employees could be as simple as changing the language in your recruitment ads. In fact, Inc. Magazine reports: “Women are turned off to job descriptions that list traits typically associated with men such as assertive, aggressive, and analytical. Women prefer to see words like dedicated, responsible, sociable, and conscientious.”

2. Develop the talent you have  

Once you have female talent in the door, build your bench strength. For example, Cisco offers two unique programmes designed to address the specific development needs of aspiring women leaders. The DARE and JUMP women’s development programmes arm women with the skills and behaviours needed to excel in their current role and contribute to the future success of Cisco. They feature workshops that encourage networking with peers and leverage internal leaders as role models.

3. Establish networks and communities of interest

The benefits of networking are well documented. And women tend to be excellent networkers. At Cisco, volunteers have created the Connected Women network, a global community to attract, develop, retain, and celebrate talented women as part of a competitive and diverse workforce.

 4. Provide strong role models

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo’s Melissa Mayer are often cited as role models for working women. But these examples can seem too far-removed. Women also need accessible role models within their own organisations. To that end, Connected Women at Cisco champions an Executive Shadowing programme that pairs middle-women “shadowees” with women executives for career insight and coaching.

5. Give women what they want 

The number one thing female employees value? Flexibility. In fact, 86% of companies on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For (which includes Cisco) offer some type of flexible schedule. In the U.S., we were recently named #3 on a list of “The 25 best tech companies to work for in America” based on six criteria including pay and ability to telecommute.   Last year, we were named #8 on a list of “The top 25 places to work in the UK” based on a survey by jobs website Glassdoor. Cisco was praised for “its training and development programmes and the work-life balance for staff.”

It’s all about the culture

Although companies like Cisco are making great strides at the executive levels, we must continue to “fix broken windows” for middle-women. And while the above ideas may help, ultimately what will attract and retain talented women is a culture that embraces diverse leadership styles.

What are your ideas for “fixing broken windows?” Share your insight in the comments below

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Carpe Diem – Seize the day! Inspiration from July’s Everyday Heroes of CiscoEWN

CEWN Header

Anuja SinghGuest Blog and Interview by Anuja Singh 

Welcome to our July edition of the monthly CEWN segment about role models. We all make resolutions and set goals to improve ourselves– but somewhere along the way, life interrupts our plans, we find ourselves juggling different priorities and invariably things get dropped. What you will find in this segment are experiences of some ordinary people who went on to achieve extraordinary results. Everyone featured in this series has faced challenges and opportunities that the rest of us can identify with. Let’s draw inspiration from the choices they made and aspire to the outcomes they created.

Milagros Bussi Millie is the Program Manager for the Cisco NYC Customer Experience Center.

Milagros Bussi
Millie is the Program Manager for the Cisco NYC Customer Experience Center.

Cisco Empowered Women’s Network (CEWN): Millie – I was fortunate to hear you tell your story, and it gave me goose bumps. Can you please share some of the early influences that shaped your life’s journey? Read More »

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CiscoChat Recap: How Do We Continue to ReDefine Ourselves?

Cisco Chat Banner logoNow we know why one participant tweeted that they couldn’t wait for a “kick-a**” #CiscoChat with Cisco Live keynote speaker and award-winning CNN analyst Mel Robbins. The chat was one of the most inspirational and honest discussions of our #CiscoChat series with nearly 70 participants engaging on the theme: How Do We Continue to ReDefine Ourselves?

During the chat, Cisco Empowered Women’s Network (Cisco EWN) founders Anuja Singh, Rima Alameddine & Priscila David, along with Mel Robbins, explored the “ReDEFINE Tomorrow, Today” theme that began at Cisco Live. Analyzing the definitions of leadership, networking, innovation and success, Cisco EWN’s forum empowered every attendee and provided ample insight into how they can redefine what these words personally mean to them.

The passionate commentary and authentic advice shared was so impactful that we wanted to keep the conversation going. If you missed the live forum or just want to recapture key discussion points (like the meaning of the “5 Second Rule” or how to be a contender vs. a competitor) take a look at some of our #CiscoChat highlights.

Reflecting on her “ReDEFINE Tomorrow, Today” closing keynote, CEWN founders Anuja Singh, Rima AlameddinePriscila David and a host of our #CiscoChat followers were more than excited for Mel Robbins to re-join the conversation.

Cisco Chat  1 Read More »

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Who is your point of reference?

Who do you compare yourself with? Come on…… I know you do, we all do! Be it at work or in our personal lives, we can’t help but compare ourselves to other people.

Ok, here’s another question for you. How many times have you compared yourself to a peer at work when they got promoted and you didn’t? I bet you went home and complained to a loved one “What is it they’ve got that I haven’t?” You most likely then started analysing yourself and tried to determine what it is you need to do differently to get promoted. Do you have to be more like them? Can you not be yourself?

We are rarely satisfied with what we have, or, what we have become. Women that work for example compare themselves to women that stay at home. Those that stay at home sometimes feel ‘inferior’ to women that work. Each feels guilty of their choices for different reasons. But here’s where it turns silly. We continue to analyse and beat ourselves up – self-doubt kicks in, self- confidence diminishes, our interior gremlin gets louder and we may try to behave as we think others expect we should. I don’t know about you, but it is exhausting. We end up hiding from ourselves, masking our feelings and believing we want what someone else has. This behaviour has to STOP!

I like to keep fit and try to exercise at least twice a week, fit body, fit mind and all that. I also have a big birthday coming up this year – there I have admitted it, it’s out there for everyone to know that I, Emma Roffey am turning….50. But you know something? I am determined to still be fit at 50! I’m fortunate enough to have a personal trainer so should realise this goal. I don’t frequent gyms, never have, I find them stressful and impersonal, so my point of reference as to how fit or strong I am is my personal trainer (she is a lady). Actually I probably should add that she is more than 10 years younger than me too – but I try desperately to forget that! She can lift more weights, do more press ups, chin ups, is more flexible…… quite frankly you name it and she is better at it than me and that is absolutely ok and to be expected.

Last weekend however I had an “aha” moment and a healthy reality check. I went away with six friends for a girlie weekend and on the first morning one of my friends invited us all to do some yoga with her. “Why not” I thought, I do a bit of yoga with my trainer now and again so I know what to do. During our yoga session I was surprised when my friends couldn’t do a particular exercise, reach a certain point in the yoga move or do a certain position when I could. It really made me stop and think about who I’d been comparing myself to all this time, who my reference point was and unbeknown to me how I actually felt about myself. I came away feeling proud of my abilities, took stock of what I can do and have achieved fitness wise.

I am strong, fit and flexible. Yes, I can improve obviously but actually I’m not that bad in comparison to my peers of a similar age or even younger I might add! For a long time, I had been underestimating my own strength, flexibility, and ability. I am not writing this for the reason of boasting, but simply for the lesson the experience taught me.

This enlightening experience led me to think about my colleagues and friends further. I constantly hear women compare themselves with their often louder and more forthright male colleagues, early in career with far more experienced colleagues , nationalities against nationalities, home based workers compared with those based at HQ, quota carrying to non- quota carrying teams. Don’t get me wrong, healthy paranoia, as I like to call it is to be expected and is acceptable but don’t let it become all- consuming. I reflected on the people I admire in and outside of work and they are the ones that are quite simply content. They are happy with who they are – be it their style, personality, how much (or little) they have in life, they have simply realised long before me that the only reference point they need in life is their self.

So the next time you’re looking enviously at someone’s figure and wishing you could wear that smaller outfit, or wondering why you didn’t get that promotion, take a moment to remember that none of it matters. All that matters is that you are happy and content with yourself, what you have and who you have become. Don’t waste time and energy comparing yourself to others. You are unique, incomparable and quite simply, you are your own reference point.