“Put your oxygen mask before others.” I have heard this mantra again and again this year in different women’s conferences and seminars.  And this was the first message from Adam Grant, the opening speaker at last month’s Massachusetts Conference for Women (CFW).

This seems logical if you think in terms of plane emergencies. If you are able to breathe, you can help the person sitting next to you, whether they’re family, friends or anyone else who needs help. In day-to- day life, this holds true too.Mantra1

First, you have to care for yourself. You have to put yourself first.  How can you take care of others if you put them before yourself, whether it’s at work, home or in a public situation. Taking this into consideration, my “oxygen mask” – or mantra – is shaped by some of these takeaways from conference speakers and attendees:

  1. Don’t give up your sleep
  2. Feel your feelings , don’t run away from them – acknowledging them makes you feel calm
  3. Keep a positive attitude, keep away from negative thinking even if that is not about you
  4. Have a team at work and home – support system – someone to talk to
  5. Know who you are and don’t compromise on it
  6. Do something fun for yourself – I love to color and paint!

For this year’s conference, Cisco was one of the top sponsors, and we had about 90 women and men attending. I was fortunate to be one of them, representing Cisco, our Boxborough site, security business unit and my WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) community.

Mantra2The conference featured inspirational keynote speakers, skill-building breakout sessions, and incredible opportunities for networking and business development.  In addition to Grant, Ellen Pao, Shonda Rhimes, Sophia Amoruso, Candy Chang were few of the speakers this year along with our own Jill Larsen, VP Talent Acquisition, People Planning & Services HR who gave opening remarks on the main stage and was on the panel for Reviving Your Career Breakout session.

Brooke Dobyns, Chief of Staff and Director for Global Customer Success, moderated the Cisco expert panel exchange on “Maximizing Your Career in a Virtual Environment” and was joined by panelists Aimee Alexander, Communications Manager, Michelle Chiantera, Senior Manager Americas Global Customer Success, Kelli Kirwin, Senior Manager Americas Global Customer Success, and Dave Wright, Senior Director Global Customer Success, Americas Virtual Sales.

Cisco Networking Lounge was a HUGE Success   A LinkedIn profile makeover expert was there for on-hand help to perfect our networking and LinkedIn profile. It was a perfect place to re-charge and chat with friends, colleagues, and new contacts.

I had been eagerly waiting to meet Isis Anchalee, the creator of #ILookLikeAnEngineer movement and had an opportunity to connect with her. She has really inspired me on how one can convert something negative into a positive for herself and others in world!  She was awfully nice, warm and gave me a big HUG J

Mantra3Besides networking with a diverse group of great women, there were a few takeaways that kept repeating themselves from session to session . . . from speaker to speaker, and I have listed the most memorable for me below. I hope these help you find your MANTRA – your oxygen mask – be it for success, happiness or just staying calm.

Here are some one-liners that resonated with me during the conference:


  • Know what your strengths and weakness are and do the best you can with them. What you might consider your weakness can become your strength
  • Shortcuts don’t pay and come back to you
  • Be curious, tenacious and comfortable with radical ideas
  • Use life experiences to inspire you and make your own discipline
  • Try something simple, take risks and trust yourself
  • Choose the right partner
  • Don’t run away from Difficult conversation, there is peace on the other side Management
  • Get the Right people on the Bus]
  • Focus on Contribution
  • Be a sprinkler (Spread it out) and not a Chunker (everything at once)

Last but not least, here’s some fashion advice from American businessman and philanthropist, Tim Dunn:  Stop wearing leggings as pants!




Satyapriya Sharma

Manager, Customer Scenario Testing

Security Technology Group