Guest Blog and Interview by Anuja Singh
Welcome to our monthly Cisco Empowered Women’s Network (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. In this segment, you’ll find 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.
Rima leads the New York Enterprise Sales business for Cisco, which consists of large Fortune 500 companies in the NY Metro area. Rima brings a wealth of diverse experiences to the business having worked in Systems & Software Development, Information Technology and Communications. As a 16 year Cisco veteran, she has held leadership positions in both Sales and Engineering. Rima has a passion for Inclusion & Diversity and its impact on the business. In 2001 she started and led the Cisco East Women Action Network. In 2012 she co-founded the Cisco Empowered Women’s Network. She holds a Bachelors and Masters degree in Computer Engineering from the American University of Beirut and Syracuse University.
Cisco Empowered Women’s Network (CEWN): You grew up in Lebanon during the Civil War – that had to have left some indelible impressions on you.
Rima: There are things that we take for granted in peace times and there are things that shape our personalities during war times. When I was in high school, we lived with an 8:00pm curfew for an entire year. I would be sitting in the house (with my 2 sisters and my brother) and we would hear things going really badly outside. But the next day, we would get up and go about our business as usual and not worry about all the things that could go wrong. That resilience and ability to take things as they came and not worrying about things I cannot control is a lesson that I still carry with me today.
CEWN: How did you come to America? Was it a challenge to make that move or did your family support you?
Rima: There is actually a funny story behind this. My grandmother lived in the mountains of Lebanon and the culture there valued boys more than girls. It used to really bother me that I would not be viewed as a potential breadwinner and it energized me to take my independence seriously. I am very fortunate that my parents are open minded and completely supported me – but I really should thank my grandmother [laughs] who motivated me to focus on my career in order to defy the culture of not expecting much from girls.
CEWN: What is the cornerstone of your work ethic?
Rima: I have never been just a 9-5 person. Even though I didn’t love my very first job out of college, I threw myself into it. I believe that ‘winging it’ means that you are not showing the respect that your colleagues and your audience deserve. I make sure I am prepared and offer the very best of whatever I am doing.
CEWN: What would you write in a letter to your younger self?
Rima: When I was younger I struggled with questions like – am I being a good mother? Am I there for my friends and family? Am I working hard enough? You can drive yourself crazy by second- guessing your actions. Today, I would tell my younger self to live in the moment and get the most out of it, and to not worry about what else I am not doing at that particular time. Things have a way of falling into place; you can’t plan everything in life.
CEWN: What have been some of the headwinds and tailwinds in your career?
Rima: The first time I applied for a leadership role, I didn’t get the job. That was tough for me because I had worked hard, prepared well and I really felt that I deserved it. What was harder was the feedback I got – I was told ‘you are too nice’. I didn’t know what to do with that feedback. How was I supposed to change who I was? It frustrated me. I was fortunate to find a great mentor and that was a game changer for me. Also, I reached out to my professional network and they provided me great advice.
My mentor advised me to challenge nebulous feedback and ask for specific examples versus judgments based on stereotypes. I realized that I didn’t have to change my basic nature and values; I just had to understand what was setting me back and make tweaks. I became more self-aware about how I was showing up and made a conscious effort be assertive and have my point of view be heard.
The resiliency that I had learned growing up served me well to get up and move forward even when things got tough.
CEWN: You have benefited from great mentors; what advice do you share with your mentees?
My advice to my mentees is to embrace discomfort becausesince it is a necessary part of building new muscles and & moving into new areas. If you get too comfortable in your job, – you are not bringing new perspectives to it. I went from being a software developer to being a sales professional, and for me that was one of the most rewarding experiences.
Another piece of advice is to be resilient and not give up easily. Everyone experiences failures; it’s how we react to them that defines us. When I was growing up, my mother used to tell me a story about the time Helen Keller visited her school and shared how she faced her challenges by being determined and constantly reminding herself that ‘where there is a will, there is a way’. I now repeat that phrase often to my two sons and myself.
CEWN: Leave us with your favorite Carpe diem statement.
Change is constant. Don’t wait for it to happen to you, instead be part of it and leverage it. Take calculated risks. If you succeed, that’s great! If you fail, it’s learning.
Don’t shy away from hard things; they are usually the most interesting and rewarding to tackle.
“Most people achieved their greatest success one step beyond what looked like their greatest failure.” Brian Tracy
Thank you Rima!