When the Olympics wrapped up in PyeongChang last week, the U.S. walked away with 23 medals—57 percent of which were won by women! I’m not sure if this is a first, but it certainly represents a trend in the right direction—in all the Winter Olympics since 1924, women have won just 40 percent of the medals. Great progress!

Women are also making significant strides in the business world. I was encouraged to see a long list of finalists in 16 categories for the U.S. Women in IT Awards sponsored by Information Age—160 women in all. And I was particularly honored to be part of that list—to be part of the rising tide that, we hope, will lift everyone.

It is clear that women are gaining new respect in sports, business, and many other arenas. But we still have a long way to go, and “progressive” Silicon Valley has not been a beacon of hope in this area. Emily Chang’s provocative new book, Brotopia, details the boys’ club culture that has created such a toxic workplace environment for many women in tech. And when women decide to change that culture by striking out on their own as entrepreneurs, funding is hard to come by. According to a Harvard Business Review article, fewer than three percent of all venture-capital funded startups have a female CEO—even though woman-founded companies outperform their male-led counterparts by 63 percent. Fortunately, we can see glimpses of change. Aspect Ventures, for example, is a new venture capital firm started by two women, whose startup portfolio is 40 percent female founded, and 30 percent cofounded by a racial minority.

So is the equal opportunity glass half empty or half full?

This is a very personal question for me right now as I head off this week on maternity leave. Because of Cisco’s newly expanded family leave program, I’ve been able to put together five full months to bond with my baby girl—this in a country that doesn’t require employers to provide paid family leave at all. I’m grateful to work for a company that is taking such leadership in this area.

But what kinds of opportunities will my daughter have as she enters the workplace? Will she struggle with the same issues that have prevented full participation for women for centuries? Or will she be supported to bring all of her creativity and passion to bear on the thorny issues our society will continue to face? Isn’t that the dream we all have for our children?

So I’d like to say that the glass is half full, that the tide is turning. But it’s up to us to make it happen.

To ensure this sea change, those of us in leadership today need to “pay it forward,” to take the time to mentor and encourage younger women and minorities who are coming up behind us in the workforce, and to consciously foster diversity and inclusion.

Like the winners who took home medals from South Korea, everyone on the Women in IT finalist list got there through incredibly hard work and determination – and also because we were helped along the way by family, mentors, and coaches. In fact there’s not a leader in the world—male or female—who got where they are today without being helped along the way by someone who went before them. This is the concept behind the Multiplier Effect Pledge, an idea that took shape at last year’s Mobile World Congress. It’s a commitment by business leaders to sponsor one aspiring minority or female leader, and to mentor them to the next level of their career. Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins took the pledge. I took the pledge. To make the world a fairer place for all the little girls—and boys—coming up behind, will you take the pledge?

Then, as my daughter—and your daughters—enter the workplace, perhaps they’ll ask, “Why was there a special award for women? Shouldn’t it be the ‘People in IT Awards’?”



Kate O'Keeffe

Senior Director

Customer and Partner Innovation