Cisco Blogs

Connecting, Empowering and Inspiring Women in Technology at Cisco

April 20, 2012 - 2 Comments

Birds of Feather Session

Women in technology have unique opportunities and challenges. Only about 25% of Information Technology jobs are held by women and this can lead to feelings of isolation. Additionally, when women don’t see a lot of role models in the industry, they find it harder to believe they can succeed.

In working with the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, I’ve learned that it’s important to acknowledge these challenges and have open conversations about them. After brainstorming with my manager and getting great support from my VP, I rallied a group of women to create a day devoted to the development and advancement of women in technology.

On March 27th, we held our first Women in Technology Forum for Cisco employees. The main event in San Jose, California saw 300 attendees in-person. The nice thing about working at a worldwide leader in networking is that we had Cisco TelePresence video conferencing, CiscoTV live-stream video and Cisco WebEx meeting applications at our disposal. This expanded attendance numbers to 1400 for the day, with participation from Europe, Asia and the Middle East. A team of volunteers also organized their own complementary events at their local Cisco locations. The 16 sites included Research Triangle Park; North Carolina; New York City; Lawrenceville, Atlanta; Boxborough, Massachusetts; Oslo and Mexico City. You can read Trina Alexson’s thoughts about leading the Toronto site here.

Executive Keynote with Padmasree Warrior.  Moderator: Shari Slate

Goals for the Conference

There were three big goals that the conference core team had for attendees: Connect, Empower and Inspire

Speed Mentoring session at the Women in Technology Forum

Connect: We wanted attendees to meet new people and find like-minded allies during the event. In San Jose, we turned breakfast and lunch into Birds of a Feather sessions. This allowed attendees to propose topics of interest on the spot and facilitate group discussions. It was a great way to get the attendees engaged.

Here’s a quote from Birds of Feather facilitator Jan Dukes-Schlossberg:

The “Security” Birds of a Feather was a success with meaningful conversation on security technology, threat models, security in a software-as-as-service business, security importance to Cisco strategy, and being a technical women in the security domain.

Other Birds of a Feather topics included gamification, motherhood and happiness. Speed mentoring and speed networking events were held at different sites as well. The task we gave attendees was to meet two new people at the conference and have lunch with them in the next month.

Q&A session during the forum

Empower: We created sessions that shared learnings about general career development, visibility and sponsorship. We invited some external experts to share research and thoughts. Telle Whitney, CEO and President of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, pointed out something that we take for granted here at Cisco: our Chief Technology Officer, our Chief Information Officer and our Chief Marketing Officer are all women and this is very rare. It was funny to hear the reaction in the room: “Oh yeah!” We also wanted to provide practical takeaways, so we had two workshops on building your brand and executive presence and influence.

We asked attendees to make one commitment to their career based on their learnings from the day.

Rebecca Jacoby sharing a story during her closing keynote at the forum

Inspire: We wanted to share success stories of women at Cisco. We made sure to show women in different types of jobs, roles and times in their career. We especially wanted to showcase the technical career path and were fortunate to have three Cisco Distinguished Engineers speak: Judy Priest, Monique Morrow and Michelle Guel.

We asked attendees to “note your key takeaways and share with your co-workers after the forum.” The inspiration virus is something that we want people to catch!

Fun and Next Steps

Of course, what kind of conference would it be without fun? Many of our internal conferences have fun components–people are still talking about the Innovation Test Conference’s cupcakes. For the Women In Tech Forum, we had a resource fair in San Jose that included professional resources as well as a henna artist, a professional headshot photo booth, a fun photo booth, a non-profit jewelry booth and a science and technology jewelry booth. Sacramento hosted a chili cook off to benefit the March of Dimes and NYC had charity raffles.

And the fun continues! I’m thrilled to report that women across Cisco have returned to their local Cisco women’s groups with renewed energy. There is planning underway for mentoring programs, executive shadowing, networking lunches and more. This is the greatest source of pride for me and the conference core team: that individuals are taking the initiative and leading groups of Cisco employees to create a positive force for change.

More about Cisco’s Women in Technology Forum

Cisco’s internal Women in Technology Forum included more than 1400 attendees on March 27, 2012 in a successful collaboration between the Engineering Talent team and one of Cisco’s employee resource groups, Connected Women in Technology.

Devoted to the development and advancement of women in technology, attendees came away with practical knowledge for their career development and an expanded network of professional allies. The San Jose agenda included:

– Keynote speakers: Padmasree Warrior, Senior Vice President, Engineering and Chief Technology Officer, Cisco and Rebecca Jacoby, Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President, IT and Cloud & Systems Management Technology Group, Cisco

– Panels: Demystifying Innovation; Ignite Your Career: Visibility, Career Development, Sponsorship including guest, Catherine Ashcraft, Sr. Researcher from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT)

– Short Talks: Industry Wide Trends of Women in Technology by Telle Whitney, CEO & President of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology; Charting Your Technical Career Path by Monique Morrow, Distinguished Consulting Engineer, Cisco

– Workshops: Building Your Brand by Jo Miller of Women’s Leadership Coaching; Executive Presence & Influence by Jill Bromund of Coachability

Many sites, including Southfield, Mexico City, RTP, Lawrenceville, NYC and Boxborough, hosted their own executive speakers, technical and executive panels, and networking events.

Sandy Thompson (Senior Director; IT), Janet Ramey (Senior Director; Cisco Services), Jim Blum (Vice President; Operations), Bill McCarthy (Area Vice President; U.S. Service Provider), and Greg Twiss (Director; Supply Chain Operations).

Relevant Links

Cisco Tech Chief Outlines The Advantages Of Being A Woman In Tech

WiTF on Pinterest: Forum speakers, their recommended reading lists and other topics of the day

WiTF on Twitter: Favorite moments of the day

WiTF on Facebook: Updated with related info and events throughout the year

In an effort to keep conversations fresh, Cisco Blogs closes comments after 60 days. Please visit the Cisco Blogs hub page for the latest content.


  1. Olivia,
    You and the team did such a great job with this event. Thank you so much for your dedication to helping women in technology! This is a great summary of the day.

    • Thanks for the note Jill. I’m so glad you could be one of our speakers 🙂