International Women in Engineering Day provides us with the opportunity to recognize the work and achievements of women engineers all across the world. Today I celebrate all of our Cisco Women in Engineering by spotlighting two extraordinary women, Priya Aiyer and Christelle Mombo-Zigah. Both share their career journeys, including their experience participating in Cisco’s Exemplar Diverse Female Mentee program which has been sponsored by Cisco SVP and General Manager Alistair Wildman and will continue under Cisco SVP Customer Experience (CX) Americas Harry Caldwell.
Priya Aiyer: A passion for process improvement
Priya Aiyer is a System Engineering Leader who has been a technology leader for more than 15 years at Cisco. She began her career in India as a people leader and transitioned to customer-facing customer experience roles in the United States. With a focus on technology transformation and services, she supported customers across service providers, enterprises, and the public sector. Later, she moved to Sales leadership. Cisco is a company that offers many careers, and Priya has experienced these in her journey.
“I knew I was interested in a customer-facing role, but at the business unit, I was limited in what I could do,” says Priya.
Priya always knew that she wanted to land a customer-facing role. Her passion for process improvement, for addressing gaps and for providing end-to-end solutions was recognized with a delivery excellence award. She is an active member of Women of Cisco and currently, she leads the Chicago chapter of the Women in Science and Engineering. The inclusive community is focused on creating a positive impact in the lives of women and girls in STEM fields inside and outside of Cisco. She is passionate about supporting women early in their careers and connecting them to opportunities.
Participation in Cisco’s SVP and General Manager Alistair Wildman’s mentee program greatly expanded Priya’s network. As a part of the mentee program, Priya and other mentees were introduced to each of the senior leadership team members and she’s grateful to have had the opportunity to hear from senior executives about their leadership journeys.
“When I think about mentoring and sponsoring, it’s a journey,” says Priya.
“Each of the mentors gave me a different perspective and shared valuable nuggets that helped me broaden my own perspective and helped me in my leadership journey,” she added.
Christelle Mombo-Zigah: A life-long learner
Christelle is a Customer Success Americas Regional Leader who has worked at Cisco for nine of her 15 years as a professional. Christelle began her career in France where she was born and raised and worked in multiple industries, including luxury goods, consumer goods, and banking. She started her journey in technology at Cisco Meraki for four years before moving to Gartner. She then returned to Cisco to join M&A integration. She later found her current home in Customer Experience (CX). Her first role in CX was as a Success Program Manager in GES West before being promoted to the role of Customer Success Americas Regional Leader.
With more than 15 years of experience in sales, business development, M&A integration, and customer experience in various industries, Christelle has taken advantage of numerous professional development opportunities at Cisco and beyond.
Having always viewed her career as that of a general manager, Christelle knew that what she needed was to learn from different business functions, increase her leadership skills, her visibility, and exposure. She participated in Cisco’s Next Generation Leader program designed to help underrepresented minorities develop leadership skills. She also participated in the company’s Jump Women’s Leadership Program, the Executive Shadow Program annually and in the Multiplier Effect, which leverages sponsorship to foster diversity and inclusion and accelerate the pipeline of diverse talent within the tech industry.
She was also an active member of the Connected Black Professional (CBP) employee resource organization (ERO), where she served as a co-lead of the San Jose chapter. She then joined the Women of Cisco San Jose Chapter leadership team along with the Responsible AI committee to align her work, values, and purpose. Through the CBP, she has mentored 10 to 12 early-in-career professionals annually to give back, lift as she climbs, and develop her people’s leadership skills. Serving as a mentor also gives her an opportunity to understand what her own mentors expect from her.
A lifelong learner, Christelle completed Stanford’s LEAD program, an executive education program through the Stanford Graduate School of Business (Stanford GSB) where she now serves as a course facilitator. The program proved to be a transformative experience for her. She subsequently launched innovations at Cisco to solve problems impacting customer experience through supply chain and cross-functional alignment and was soon promoted.
Want to supercharge your career? Use Priya and Christelle’s five key takeaways
1. Have a clear vision.
“Be intentional. Know your passions. Make your plan. Have a vision for your future and believe in it and the universe will conspire to make it happen,” advises Priya. “This program has helped me build my mentorship tree. I have mentors and sponsors across different verticals as well as in commercial as a result.”
2. Be bold and courageous.
When Cisco’s SVP of Global Customer Experience Alistair Wildman joined the Americas from the EMEA region in 2018, Christelle reached out as a fellow European living in the United States, to welcome him to Cisco’s Americas team and to let him know that she enjoyed his All-Hands meeting. She also made sure to share her work in Customer Success Global Enterprise Sales West by cross-functionally aligning customer success, sales, and renewals. She also shared her two innovations. Later, she was nominated to participate in Alistair’s Exemplar Diverse Female Mentee program as well as Sales Champions 2022.
3. With mentors or sponsors, try to make the conversation as beneficial for them as it is for you.
“If you have a mentor, always summarize what you learn and send a thank you note,” says Priya.
“Always follow up and share your learnings. Share your perspective and your takeaways from those conversations. The most critical is to be intentional with your relationship with your mentors and sponsors. This will go a long way.”
4. Focus on sponsors, not just mentors.
“Most of my sponsors have come through the Executive Shadow program in which I shadowed and added value,” said Christelle. “One of our executives was new. I was working in M&A so I could share insights on Cisco culture, and our acquisitions integrations operating model [with him].”
Different from mentors, sponsors, “will use [their] own capital to advocate on your behalf so you need to be in a trusting relationship so that they will represent you well and advocate for you when you’re not [in the room],” she continued.
“After all, you can improve your skillsets through online learning via Coursera [and] LinkedIn Learning but tapping into the relationship you develop with a sponsor two levels above your own is an invaluable asset with a tremendous impact on your career.
5. Make your work visible and get as involved as possible with a variety of programs.
“[There are] many factors you can’t control but having a sponsor in a role advocating for you, saying you should be considered is most important,” says Christelle.
“One critical program I participated in was the Executive Shadow program. It helped me find my mentors who then became my sponsors. Get as involved as possible with these programs. Take advantage of these to learn, develop your skills, and build relationships at Cisco.”
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