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Cisco Hosts Future Women Leaders from Tunisia

April 1, 2014 - 5 Comments

rbartmesThis post was written by guest blogger Richard Bartmess, a Cisco IT analyst.

Inspired by the 2011 Tunisian Revolution and the demand for more freedom, transparency, and democracy, Afràa is determined to fight against corruption and to help lead her country forward. Imane has a master’s degree and works in an engineering field dominated by men. Neila co-founded a political party that won four seats in Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly.

Afràa, Imane, and Neila are just 3 of the 17 women from Tunisia who visited Cisco today as part of the Women’s Initiative Fellowship of the George W. Bush Institute.  The Women’s Initiative Fellowship is designed to enhance the leadership skills of women around the world, with a focus on women in the Middle East and Africa.

During their visit to Cisco, the women met several Cisco executives, including Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Blair Christie, who gave a keynote address on such topics as:

  • Why inclusion and diversity are important
  • Women as leaders and change agents
  • How technology can enable success
Cisco welcomed 17 Tunisian women from the Women's Initiative Fellowship of the George W. Bush Presidential Center to discuss careers in technology and how technology can be used for social good.

Cisco Chief Marketing Officer Blair Christie (center) and others welcomed 17 participants from the Women’s Initiative Fellowship of the George W. Bush Presidential Center to discuss careers in technology and how technology can be used for social good.

During her keynote, Blair discussed the distribution of women as leaders in the workforce. Only 14% of CEO positions, and 4% of tech CEO positions, are held by women. Given these facts, she stated that “change is not going to come from the USA” but will come globally. Therefore, empowering women on a global scale and enhancing the leadership skills of all women is crucial to fostering change. On a personal level, part of implementing this change is to “communicate your hopes, desires, and aspirations,” which Blair attributes to earning a promotion to a manager earlier in her career. Her final point to the attendees was that “as a female today, I do have to take control of my own destiny.”

After her keynote presentation, Blair engaged the audience in a question-and-answer session. One of the participants inquired about maintaining a work-life balance between her prominent leadership role and her family, with three children and a husband. Blair provided four suggestions on how to maintain a good blend. The first suggestion was to marry the right partner and communicate effectively by sharing responsibilities within the household. Planning ahead allows her to “choose those quality moments” in her personal life, such as a school play or graduation ceremony, and to set a calendar in advance for those moments. Making the right choices is important too. Blair stated that instead of aiming for a balance, she prefers to have a blend between work and life. Lastly, she advised to allow yourself some slack to create some flexibility.

Laura Quintana, Director of Operations in Corporate Affairs, presented an overview of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Cisco, and a leadership panel held a Q&A session on topics like maintaining a balance between work and life, overcoming challenges in the face of adversity, addressing cultural challenges, and obtaining a career mentor.

The visit was organized by Cisco Employee Resource Organizations (EROs) in partnership with Corporate Affairs. This is the second year Cisco has hosted participants from the Women’s Initiative Fellowship. Last year, 20 women from Egypt visited the San Jose campus.


Laura Quintana of Cisco Corporate Affairs talks about Cisco’s corporate social responsibility activities with the 17 visiting fellows from Tunisia.

Executive panelists Karen Mangia, Dima Khoury, Maria Cannon, Afsaneh Laidlaw, Liz Centoni and moderator Tara Fortier

Executive panelists Karen Mangia, Dima Khoury, Maria Cannon, Afsaneh Laidlaw, Liz Centoni and moderator Tara Fortier.

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  1. It was really interesting and beneficial for all of us!
    Thank you very much! I extremely appreciate your CSR efforts in making the world better!

    • Thank you Afraa for your feedback, it is very important to us. It was great meeting you and all the ladies from Tunisia, you are doing so well and I think it is people like who are making the world better!!! Good luck and enjoy the rest of your stay in the US!

  2. Thank You so much for your interest in our cause.
    Visiting CISCO was one of our greatest moments.

    • Hi Neila, it was a pleasure to have you and the group here. You all very passionate, hard workers; our Executive team was impressed with all of your questions and feedback and they very much enjoyed the Breakout session with each one of you. We know you all will be very successful. Good luck to you and the team and please keep in touch with us!

  3. Great blog Richard and wonderful way to describe this fabulous event. Thank you to our wonderful speakers, panelists and MC, who joined us to share their insight, and experiences as professional women, mothers, daughters, wives and the great Cisco CSR initiatives around the world.

    Our Thanks go to: Blair Christie, Laura Quintana,
    Liz Centoni, Dima Khoury, Maria Cannon, Afsaneh Laidlaw, Karen Mangia and Tara Fortier and all the volunteers from Conexion and several EROs, and Corporate Affairs who made this event possible.