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Girls Power Tech Inspires Young Women to Pursue IT Careers

Kelly Kramer, Cisco’s Chief Financial Officer, shared an inspirational message with more than 100 young women on Cisco’s San Jose campus yesterday: “You don’t need to live under gender stereotypes; you can be whatever you want to be!”

Her words wrapped up this year’s Girls Power Tech event, in which we opened our doors to more than 125 girls ages 13 to 18 for a day of site tours, presentations, and employee mentoring. Girls from non-profit partners Citizen Schools and City Year spent the day learning about the Internet of Everything and talking to us about career opportunities in the IT field.

More than 100 girls attended Girls Power Tech on Cisco's San Jose campus , where they found inspiration to pursue careers in IT.

125 girls attended Girls Power Tech on Cisco’s San Jose campus , where they found motivation to pursue careers in IT

In more than 91 Cisco offices in over 56 countries around the world, Cisco welcomed more than 3,300 female students from local schools, Cisco Networking Academy classes, and other non-profit organizations in celebration of International Girls in ICT Day, held on April 23.

Through our efforts, we are encouraging girls and young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and become the next generation of innovators – the dreamers and doers who will use technology to change the world.

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Seeing the Connected World Through the Eyes of Children

Creative. Problem Solver. Team Player.

These could easily be a part of a job description in LinkedIn, but for me these words describe the group of 5th and 6th graders I had the privilege to meet last week.

Through a Cisco volunteer program called Programa Escuela, elementary school students have the opportunity to learn firsthand about the latest technology from Cisco employees: from connecting things through the Internet of Everything to how cities are becoming “Smart.” This is especially relevant to the classrooms we visited in Barcelona as their community is continually referenced in the Smart City space.

The goal of the program is to teach children about technology, inspire them to keep up their studies, especially around STEM-related areas (science, technology, engineering and math), and to engage them in a hands-on project where they can apply their knowledge. They also receive coaching and mentoring around project work and communication skills.

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Should women consider a career in cybersecurity? Absolutely!

With the United Nations’ International Girls in ICT day fast approaching on April 23rd, this is a great opportunity to discuss how we can get young women involved in careers in technology. Cybersecurity is an ever-present issue with companies and individuals suffering attacks daily. At Cisco, we believe that protection from threats does not rely on a single technology or solution, it incorporates both the processes and of course, the people. It is predicted that by 2017, an additional two million security professionals will be needed, but what many young people – particularly women – underestimate, is how rewarding and far-reaching a career in cybersecurity can be.

Taking, the UK as one example, cybersecurity employs 40,000 people and is worth £6 billion to the economy. Yet according to the Cisco 2014 Annual Security Report, more than one million positions for information security professionals remain unfilled around the world. What’s more, is that female cybersecurity staff only account for 11 percent of the global workforce. In Europe, the figures are even worse, coming in at only 7 percent .

Today there still remains a notion that IT is a “man’s job”. Women thinking of applying are often dissuaded as they may lack the confidence needed at the very start to pursue this career path. Yet, not only is this job market growing, but these jobs pay higher than other industries. We must do what we can to encourage young women to be fearless and pursue these fields of study, because they add new perspectives in the workplace that benefit business outcomes.

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Six-Year-Old Role Models at the White House Science Fair

I had the opportunity to attend the White House Science Fair last week, and I was blown away by the creativity and curiosity of the young men and women who presented their inventions.

The team that really stole the show was a group of 6-year-old Girl Scouts called the ‘“Super Girls” Junior FIRST Lego League Team,’ who showed off a battery-powered robot made of Legos that can turn pages for people who are disabled.

What a truly amazing group of girls!  They’re a real inspiration and role model to girls around the country and the world who want to grow up to be the next great entrepreneur or inventor.

Blair--White HouseScience Fair

 

But all too often, these girls are the exception, when they should be the rule.  Today, simply put, not enough girls and young women are choosing to go into the fields that make up STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of computer science degrees awarded to women peaked at 37 percent between 1984 and 1985. Compare this to only 18 percent of the degrees awarded to women in the period between 2008 and 2011, and it is easy to see the dilemma STEM employers are facing today.

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Everyday Heroes of Cisco Empowered Women’s Network: Sharon Sputz

This article was written by Anuja Singh.

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Carpe diem – Seize the day! Inspiration from everyday heroes of Cisco Empowered Women’s Network

Welcome to our second edition of  Cisco Empowered Women’s Network (CiscoEWN) Everyday Heroes. 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 is inspiration from ordinary people who have achieved 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.

We are honored to feature this month Sharon Sputz!

sharon

Sharon has combined experience in business strategy and technical research and after reinventing herself many times through her career; she now is doing some fascinating work in Data Sciences at Columbia University. Find out more about Sharon here.

CiscoEWN: You have held various positions in your career, but technology has been a common theme; how old were you when you discovered your passion for the field?

Sharon: I was always fond of Math and Science. When I was in middle school, I wanted to ensure that I went into 8th grade in the highest honors math track. Unfortunately, I did not do well in the placement test and was told that I couldn’t join that track. My parents knew how much it meant to me and spoke to the school to let me take the test again – but I still didn’t do well. I could have given up but I was so driven that my parents and I got the school to agree (at my own risk) to let me sit in the class. My math teacher was a formidable lady who ended up believing in my persistence – her faith in me made me strive harder and I ended up going to college for medicine.

 

Cisco EWN: Medicine? Did I miss that in your bio?
Sharon: We all choose a path but sometimes things change – how we accept those changes and make what we can out of them determines our tenacity and character. I lost my way a little in freshman year of a pre-med program – there were some health issues, some peer pressure issues and I ended up thinking that I wasn’t good enough to continue down the medical path. But thankfully, I had a very strong foundation from high school and I was doing very well in the physics courses I was taking. I am grateful again to have professors who cared enough to call if one didn’t show up for class and I thrived in the rigor of Quantum physics. That’s when I knew that I loved physics and research and would rather pursue that field. That decision gave me the foundation for how life turned out.

 

 

CiscoEWN: What would you write in a letter to your younger self?

Sharon: Life is a journey, it’s not about getting from point A to point B. Have patience and don’t rush. You can make each day more fulfilling by increasing the balance in your life. When we are young we tend to think that we are entitled to success – but only hard work and persistence enable us to remove each rock from our way. Success doesn’t come instantly so don’t give up.

 

CiscoEWN: You spent 13 years in Bell labs as a research scientist with world-renowned physicists; produced revolutionary patents; went to school at night to get your Masters; and had two children. How did you do it?

Sharon: (Laughing) I don’t really know. I just did what needed to be done and looking back I don’t really know where the energy came from. Those were also challenging years because there were hardly any women or minorities working in research but I never felt conscious and never let that impact me. Instead I saw tremendous opportunity and worked hard and didn’t let the difficult environment stand in my way. Juggling everything was hard and I am fortunate I had my family, husband, community of working women and friends who supported each other and me.

 

CiscoEWN: And then, when you were at the top of your game, you quit and joined Lucent in a marketing job. Did you have any marketing skills?

Sharon: No, and I didn’t think about it either. It was a huge change but I was joining a field (Telecom) that was booming and would make me grow in ways that I couldn’t have grown had I kept doing only research. I also got a confidence boost when I saw that if you were willing to work hard and learn and problem solve then people are willing to take their chances on you and train you. I rolled up my sleeves, read a lot, learned from mentors on the job and because it was a technical marketing job, I was able to leverage my scientific training and differentiate myself.

“Life is a journey. Celebrate each moment. Don’t be in a rush to get from Point A to Point B.”

-Sharon Sputz

 

CiscoEWN: Since then, you have taken the risk of reinventing yourself twice more – first as a defense contractor working on DOD projects, and now at Columbia University as an educator. Do you have any self-doubt as you set about proving yourself anew each time?

Sharon: Everyday – I think about how I can do my job better, how can I push myself harder? I wouldn’t call it self-doubt, but I always question if I am doing all I can. And when I am given the opportunity to reinvent myself, I am so grateful that someone took a chance on me, gave me the chance to learn and grow, that I work harder to live up to their faith in me.

I was 51 when Columbia University approached me; my first reaction was to decline the opportunity. But education and my teachers have had such a huge impact on my life, I felt this was my opportunity to impact other people and give back. While I have never felt that being a woman has held me back, I enjoy the opportunity to enable other women coming into an academic environment and encourage them to pursue any opportunity without impediments.

 

CiscoEWN: Leave us with your favorite Carpe diem statement.

Sharon: Life doesn’t always go the way you think it’s going to go. While it’s important to persist and believe in yourself and go after your dreams, it’s also ok for those dreams to change. Celebrate each dream and make the most out of it.

 

Thank you Sharon!

 

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