Putting a Spotlight on Difficult Conversations
It’s hard to know where you might fit in at a major tech company when you eat, breathe, and sleep creativity. The two, usually, don’t go hand in hand and being able to use my creative eye had always been the backbone of my career.
Working for a well-known, established, world-changing tech company seemed daunting. Was I in over my head? At 4’11” I probably was 😉 but I’m a fierce 4’11” who loves new challenges.
I also had no idea if this company was going to embrace who I am completely.
I joined Cisco’s HR team as a contractor in the Office of Inclusion and Collaboration. The work was provoking and fascinating, but not without its challenges. I learned, I watched, I listened. I even asked my manager some pretty risky questions.
These questions might not necessarily be seen as “politically correct” – but my true curiosity and the need to have answers to resolve my own ignorance led the way. I wanted to truly understand the level and depth of complexity in the space of diversity.
As only my manager knew how to do, she was never offended, and we had those conversations openly.
After almost two years in HR I was offered a full-time position in Cisco’s Security & Trust (S&TO). And again, I looked at this as another opportunity for growth and exploration. At Cisco, you’re able to have real career growth and even multiple careers within one company which is great!
I was thrown into the deep end of Security & Trust, but my team always threw me a lifeline when I needed it, and I learned even more about Cisco than ever before.
Around this time, I started experiencing firsthand the challenges and conversations around the struggles of retention, attraction, and promotion in diversity hiring. I’ve always sought out opportunities to help influence our culture, and so when the moment arose to help drive the mentoring loop – I did just that.
I admired our Sr. Director and sponsor of the AA/Black mentoring loop’s ability to say that he didn’t understand the “black” experience, but Anthony was behind us 100% and was open to listening and trying to understand.
Anthony and I had wonderful conversations and I would share articles and videos of the injustice in our community. I was pleasantly surprised to see that one day he sent me an article back – this showed me that he was becoming more aware.
Being an active member in the mentoring loop, I heard of even more pain points and challenges that my peers were experiencing. I have never been one to sit back and watch injustices happen. I’ve always used my creativity to influence change through the arts. I had to figure out how to bring the conversation beyond just a meeting and throw it into a spotlight.
The hardest part of having tough conversations is starting them. I talk to people all the time through words; from my weekly radio segments, my podcast, songwriting and mentoring our next generation of influencers. So I know I had to find a way to give people access to a productive conversation that allows for reconciliation and not division.
That’s what I ran into a middle ground video on YouTube and thought, “This is it!” I began to map out a plan for bringing these topics and conversations to the forefront. I wanted to enable an audience to watch, learn, and listen to what’s happening in black culture from comfort of your own home, car or airplane or whatever your day consists of.
With Black History month on the horizon (and now here) I thought this would be a great time to not only put my plan in action, but also to find a way to engage people in a non-confrontational and embracing atmosphere.
I ran this idea past a few co-workers, managers, directors, and the mentoring loop members and I saw their excitement. I knew I was on to something.
From there, I let my creative juices flow and now seeing this project come to life has been nothing short of amazing. I believe when you operate in your giftings and talents with the right intent and motive, your gift will make room for you. I hope to continue doing this and creating more ways to encourage people to lean in and embrace all cultures here at Cisco and beyond.
You often here at Cisco “be you, with us” – that we embrace diversity, take on difficult conversations, and that – yes – we’re a company for techies and creatives alike.
What I didn’t expect was that I would be experiencing all of that first hand while being trusted by so many to set out and turn this idea I had into a reality.
It was cool to see that my complete, authentic self really does have a place at Cisco.
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