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Creating the Next Generation of Tech Role Models

- March 8, 2016 - 93 Comments

My eleven-year old daughter came to me a few months ago claiming an intense dislike for Robotics. As any other parent can tell you, her avowal madeAnand's daughter me terribly sad. More so since she claimed Robotics was a “boy-thing.” I told her, as I confess here, that I am certainly no authority on women and technology nor do I like to sound preachy. I am, however, a parent, a husband and a leader of a large engineering team, and in that capacity I would like to discuss how we can all work together to create the next generation of technology role models – role models who make it effortless and exciting for children like my daughter to look forward to a fulfilling career in technology.

At Cisco, we pride ourselves on the network we have created. It is the collective work of thousands of engineers spanning several decades. I often tell people I am proud to work at Cisco because I honestly believe we are making a significant impact on the world. It is with the same conviction that I tell people we must endeavor to level the playing field for women in technology and engineering – not just at Cisco, but everywhere in the industry. 

I was recently invited to a gathering of Cisco women leaders in technology since I am the champion for Inclusion & Collaboration within the software engineering group.  I had the opportunity to share with them my thoughts on how women engineers can win the corporate marathon. To me, it is all about cross-training the professional muscle and owning one’s career. By this I mean, taking a holistic approach to building a career and remembering three important “As”:

  • Accepting Reality: Understanding that stereotypes exist and learning how to get around them. In fact, using them to your advantage.
  • Availing Resources: Unabashedly tapping into an organization’s resources and cultivating managers.
  • Advantage You: Seizing opportunities, adopting mentors, and building teams.

Inclusion & Collaboration is a top-of-the-mind priority for Cisco and our leadership team. And we are making progress. We have implemented comprehensive I&C approaches, including executive mentoring programs, providing a soft landing for women returning to the workforce after a break, and hardcoding diversity into our hiring and people development plans. We also make every effort to weave I&C training and workshops into our work lives on an on-going basis. All to ensure we are fostering our existing female talent and supporting the next generation of tech role models.

We are gaining ground, but we still have a long way to go to achieve our goal of greater gender representation in high-tech. Unfortunately, this is not a problem that can be solved overnight. But if each of us can serve as a role model for just one young female who aspires to a career in technology, we can make a significant contribution. And I offer there is no better time than international women’s day to pledge our support and commitment to increasing female role models in technology.

I’m happy to report, that either as a result of our sustained conversations or her own nature, my daughter stuck with her Robotics class and went on to represent her school at the state championships!

I’d love to trade ideas on how we can all become technology role models for the next generation.

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93 Comments

  1. I couldn't agree more! Together we can make a difference.

    I'm a supporter of STEM and encouraging young girls to get involved in science and math; but what about the college age girls who are already bought in and are facing challenges? How are the issues for this audience being addressed?

    Well presented points on how to influence the younger ones on technology

    Wonderful & inspirational - we need to replicate in other regions

  2. I am involved with FIRST Robotics at all age levels. It is a great way for kids not only to get involved with STEM but to meet and work with others from all backgrounds. I was at an event recently where members of a team I am familiar with from Appalachia worked closely (and became fast friends) with a team from the Netherlands. FIRST participation is 60% male, 40% female. I am certain when I was in school (a very long time ago), robotics would have been a "boy thing."

  3. Thanks for sharing Anand, Very inspiring and good read !

  4. Excellent article. I am coaching a team seven 5th grade girls for FLL, it's been a very rewarding experience.

    Thanks for sharing this very inspiring piece of reading, it really does make you think

  5. Excellent initiative for sure and I am glad I got a chance to be part of it !! Also a great step in setting up a solid foundation for the generations to come.

  6. good article Succesfully

  7. Anand, Great article with an inspiring message. Today's children are tomorrow's leaders, and they will be tasked with making our world a better place. Teaching our children to be inclusive, collaborative and conscious can aid their cause. Very excited to see an increase of women and other minorities in the technology space. It's also exciting to see today's technology leaders sharing these beliefs.

      more work to do though.

  8. Nicely raised issues. The reality is that gender and racial bias is so ubiquitous in the technology industry that it forces talented female and minority employees to leave. The company culture needs to change and we appreciate all that Cisco is doing under the leadership of people like you. Our group recently hired 2 Engineers (both females) and they bring utmost energy to the group. IMO the three A's are equally applicable for males. Lets hope new technocrats are quite open minded.

  9. Hi Anand, As father of two grown daughters, I can appreciate your passion on this subject. Good blog! //Kevin

      Thanks Kevin

  10. Awesome and very inspiring article Anand. I am a parent of two daughter and the coach for our daughters Robotics team ( which won two awards at Norcal FLL regionals in 2015 and 2016 ). Good to see that Leader like you are setting the correct example for the next generation. Kudos !

  11. This stereo typing is very important to overcome. Great article. thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  12. Very inspiring article, Anand. Your 3 As would really work wonders. Happy to know Cisco has good approaches for better inclusion.

  13. Great article, Anand! The three A’s are very powerful as you mention. I see that in action at Cisco. Leaders like you walk the talk fostering diversity in engineering.

  14. I worked at Cisco for few years before joining Grad School. I can proudly say Cisco encourages diversity and inclusion truly. Despite being hearing disabled, i always felt encouraged and was always presented with opportunities and responsibilities. My manager was just awesome To be true , i liked my office than other place at that time. I believe to encourage women and other less represented groups, we need to send our role models to children. 1. If women engineer go to school and talk about technology, it will specially encourage girls to break such barrier since they can connect with them. A small girl will definitely wants to be like to a women engineer whom she just met. "The boy thing" stereotype comes because many girls did not have chance to see girls doing it. 2. I believe mass media can also play role. For ex In movies , a girl playing role of high end hacker will have impact on children.

      Thank you for sharing you experiences at Cisco...

  15. Congratulations to your daughter on making it to the Robotics championship! I've been an engineer for over 25 years, its one thing to hire more women, but what I admire about you is the Inclusion and Collaboration efforts. That is an important part in creating the next generation of role models!

    This is fantastic story and an encouraging perspective. Also heartened to read through all of the supportive comments above. True change in the industry won't come until a critical mass of those of us already here really drive that change, and this is a great example of momentum building. Thank you!

      Thank you Danielle. Couldnt agree with you more. CHange wont coming unitl we make an effort.

  16. Nice write up Anand with a very personal touch. Thanks for doing this. I have to say having been involved in I &C initiatives has been really motivating and lot of learning. Glad to be part of this team.

  17. Knowledge doesn't have any gender, inspiring !

  18. very good blog post Anand! This is much needed and thanks for taking great leadership role in this aspect to inspire many others at Cisco.

    Great article, Anand. Thanks for sharing with us. Being a mom of a 6 year old girl, I could relate to it completely. As you mentioned, stereotypes are everywhere. I'm happy to be part of an organization where leadership not only recognizes that there is a need to change, but is also actively engaged in working towards making a positive impact.

    It is always good to hear personal experiences and implement some of those learnings in ones own life. Thanks for sharing it with all of us.

      Thanks

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Anand. I'm glad to hear it worked out for your daughter! Promoting Diversity at a young age is crucial and it's great to see you helping to lead the charge.

  19. Thank you for sharing your story. Similarly, my daughter (13) decided to do an engineering project (w/ my encouragement) for the school science fair this year. She was able to design and create a working a bone conduction hearing device, She won "Best of Show" at her school and is now taking her project to the state level. For the past several years, she has been saying she wants to be a lawyer. Now, for the first time ever, she started saying, "maybe I could be an audio engineer."

      Thats super Cheryl !

  20. My Computer Science class in Cairo, Egypt 1992 at the American University in Cairo had two thirds female students.. Every graduation project team consisted of two females and one male. I am very proud of this and a lot of them have very successful careers today.

  21. A role model for girls is Anna Chary (ex-Cisco) who is a tireless teacher of math and computer science to kids. http://mwsm.com/teachers.html Also look up Radia Perlman, another MIT alum.

  22. Very well said, Anand. Also, glad to see the steps you have taken in your organization towards this....truly walking the talk. Proud to be at Cisco!!!!

    Great Article, it's inspiring! We believe we can change the world in a gentle way!

      yes, for sure....

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Anand. Happy to be part of the organization that has inculcated "Inclusion and Diversity" in its culture. I have a request, hope the leadership/mentoring programs and opportunity to participate in leadership events is available to all women engineers. Sometimes due to various constraints these great opportunities are only available to a few engineers .

      Agree Bhanu.

  23. Anand - thanks for sharing your personal story - it definitely grounds us all into reaching further to do our bit!

    Thanks Anand for marking this special day and being a champion for Inclusion and Collaboration! Planting the ‘seed of interest’ in the young female students for STEM is really vital. Volunteering at Outreach events with local schools/universities is a way to get them motivated for pursuing Tech Careers.

      Yep !

  24. Insightful and inspiring piece! The anecdote about your 11-year old brings to mind global programs like the Technovation Challenge, that have made significant strides in bridging the technology gap for young school and college age girls. The Technovation Challenge relies on volunteer mentors and coaches from companies like Cisco, making a huge impact on these young girls at an early age and showing them how exciting careers in technology can be!

  25. Anand, very nicely articulated write up! As you have rightly mentioned, availing resources and seizing opportunities is key! And in my one year tenure with Cisco I can see that we walk the talk to a very large extent as I witness a lot of passion and enthusiasm in making this cause a reality! Thanks again!

      Glad you are enjoying working at Cisco. #lovewhereyouWork

  26. Well written article! Inspiring story to share at home too!

      Thanks.

  27. Great! Very important topic. In my experience mentoring and access to opportunities is key. There are a lot of barriers to breakdown including our own thoughts about what we can or can't do based on what society tell us should be our role as women. Also, it is important to re-think how we present engineering technology to capture interest as something cool that we benefit from in our daily lives...

      Thanks Brenda. We need to make it more fun and cool.. agree

  28. Inspiring article! Great to see Cisco take this cause seriously.

      Its the right thing do.

  29. Your sincerity of promoting diversity is a big encouragement for all! Thanks!

      Thanks Wanzhen.

    Very well articulated and loved the way it started with Robotics story of your daughter.Glad to understand your thought Leadership and Lead Generation. Thank You.

      Thanks

  30. Tuely uplifting and inspiring words... Time to lead!

      onwards and upwards Sharmila ! nothing can stop us :)

    Awesome story! I believe Cisco and management like you are very good at inspiring women to set higher expectations and challenge themselves. Thanks for sharing this story!

      Thanks Janet !

  31. Very inspiring article Anand. It is great that the leaders at Cisco accept that the bias exists and working on removing them.

      We are committed to have a level playing field for all..

  32. Well written Anand ! It's great to be part of a company that wholly embraces and promotes women in technology. A 'Bring your kids to work' day or a forum on technology trends organized by women in engineering for school going kids would be a great way to help our next generation gain perspective and better appreciation for high tech.

      Great Ideas !

  33. Anand, Very well written which we are all can connect with working with our daughters and all women in our life (wife, mother, sister) as well as women engineers. While high-tech fields have long way to achieve kind of diversity medical field has, trend is in right direction. I have personally seen the passion you and other leaders at Cisco are bringing to this cause.

      We still have a long way to go !

  34. Nice Article. It really helps to high light the women role models in technology to girls. Recently my daughter was in an 'Internet Engineering' class. She was very inspired by "Radia Perlman".

      Agree Hari.

  35. Nice Article Anand! Thanks for sharing this article on International women's day!.I do appreciate you taking your time and coming up with this wonderful and detailed article to inspire next generation girls/women to get in to STEM related careers. I am so proud to know that Cisco is encouraging more women to get in to Engineering. I am proud to work with cisco.

      Proud to work at Cisco too !

  36. Thoughts and actions like these truly makes a workplace more enjoyable and less stressful. After all ,it is the relationships we build with people, culture and organizations that count. Thanks for sharing such wonderful thoughts.

      Well said !

    Great ideas for how one can own their career , serve as a role model & inspire others- thanks!

      Glad you found this useful

    Perfect blog post for International Women's Day! Thank you for the perspective - its so empowering to hear of Cisco's support for diversity across the entire company!

      Thanks Carolyn

  37. Truly inspiring blog post !! It's encouraging to see leaders in the tech world taking actionable steps to close the gender gap..

      Thanks. Its never tol late :)

      Thanks. Its never too late :)

    Anand, good article. It's good to know that Cisco is thinking and investing in gender parity. Could you elaborate on first A - Accepting Reality? What you mean by taking advantage of sterotypes?

      Pooja, Thanks for reading and commenting. Stereotypes will exisit - some can be changed and some cannot. At the end you can control how others behave. Just the situation and scenarios yo your advantage,

  38. Wonderfully written Anand! Being a minority can be daunting at first. Its important to break this barrier. Not just by building confidence of women engineers but also reducing the representation gap. I am glad to see the steps you have taken to hire women in your org and have created mentorship programs around this. This is much appreciated. BTW, my 8 year old daughter feels the same way about Robotics. In the meantime, my 6 year old joined Robotics and is loving it.

      Rashmi - I hope you can encourage both your kids to do it !

    Excellent write up!

  39. Awesome article! It's true that the some form of stereotyping exists in every work environment but it's good to know that companies like Cisco are actively breaking down the barriers and encouraging women engineers. Looking forward to more women entrepreneurs. But most importantly understanding the concerns and blockers is important and you have clearly articulated those in your blog.

      Agree. Once you understand the situation it gets easier to tackle it.

      Nice comment!

  40. Good article! Well narrated.

  41. Inspiring article with practical advise: building a career and remembering three important “As”! Thanks for your strong support to women engineer development program, e.g. executive women engineer mentoring program is well received.

  42. I truly believe that in engineering/technical fields gender is not relevant. Tell your daughter there are very few true "boy thing" in this world :), engineering/science is certainly not it.

  43. Wonderful, inspiring article! So nice to hear how you all are investing in the future of the younger generation!

  44. Wonderful, inspiring article! So nice to hear how you all are investing in the future of the younger generation.

      Glad you liked it.