Be Fearless! That was the theme of an incredible Cisco Women of Impact Conference last week, and like most of the 4,850 people joining from about 80 sites around the world, I came away inspired and energized by all I heard and learned during the day.  We came together as women (and men) that wanted to learn, connect and share ideas on how we could personally make a bigger impact.  I know I took home many new ideas and many new friendships.

I’m very proud and extremely fortunate to be the EMEAR executive sponsor of Connected Women.  The Women of Impact day is one of our key events – designed to provide ideas and insights, help women connect, and encourage them—no, all of us—to reach for more.  It’s a powerful reminder of the power of diversity in our business.

So, what does it mean to be fearless?

First of all, it’s about going beyond fear.  It’s about recognizing fear when it crops up (and believe me, it will), and then having the courage to set it aside and to move forward, whatever the obstacles.  Effective leadership often means stepping into the unknown, disregarding fear and focusing on how you can make an impact.

To go beyond fear is to Be Bold! This goes beyond being fearless – it’s proactive! As Shari Slate, Cisco’s head of Inclusion & Diversity, said ‘Make it happen! Dream big, be bold, be outrageously collaborative, be unstoppable!’.  Think outside the box and don’t be afraid to take risks. Even if it scares you and you haven’t got it all figured out, sometimes you just have make a start and work it out as you go along.  Bold moves demand imagination and determination and I think women have a little bit of an advantage when it comes to those qualities … but then I’m not entirely objective here, as I’m a woman.

Being fearless is also about being your best authentic self. As Biba Binotti, the founder of Red Hat People, said ‘don’t let the ‘gremlins’ of self-doubt get in the way’.  Learn from others – there are always ways to do things better – but don’t try to emulate someone else in order to achieve their success. It doesn’t work that way.  After all, we’re all different – a different mix of skills and life experiences.  So don’t be afraid to be you. Do things that fit with your core values and your essential personality. Be yourself and believe in yourself.  There is a CEO in every single one of us. We can all be a leader if we own being the best at what we do.

To be fearless also means to step outside your comfort zone and to embrace change. It’s good to have a plan, but in our fast-evolving world, it’s also imperative to stay agile. Just look at the market transitions we are in and how we’re changing as a business to make the most of them. Many of our presenters – all people of impact – spoke about how they had adapted to change and made the most of the opportunities it brought. We each build up transferable skills that can be applied to new roles and sometimes even tactical sideways or downwards moves can deliver greater rewards.

Each one of the presenters—men and women—‘walked the talk’ and have been fearless in their journeys.  Each one of them showed that we can all be women of impact and leaders of change.

I know the results of that change and that impact will propel Cisco forward at an even greater pace.


Paula Dowdy

Senior Vice President

Cloud, Software and Managed Services