Who knew that changing my LinkedIn profile photo would be the thing that got people talking? Amongst all the other surprises of 2020, I did not see ‘going viral on LinkedIn’ coming. But there I was, watching a post I created take off and impact so many around the world. In large part, I shared what I did because of how Cisco empowers us to bring our authentic selves to work.
Recently, however, I found myself struggling as I looked at my professional photo (on both LinkedIn and our Cisco employee directory) and realized it was 180 degrees away from the person I now was in September 2020. I no longer felt I had to ‘look a certain way’ to join Webex meetings from my home office and, to be frank, that photo often made me cringe. I kept it only because I thought it represented a smart, polished, powerful professional woman – and who wouldn’t want to work with her?
Right before an 8:30am call that morning, I got to my desk and caught a reflection of myself – barely dried hair, comfy pullover, ripped jeans, slightly frazzled from having just gotten three kids ready for “school” – but smiling and ready for work.
“Now this is the real me,” I thought as I snapped the selfie that would later become my profile photo, replacing the cringe-inducing headshot. I then wrote out a quick LinkedIn post, and hit submit – it didn’t take long for the comments to pour in.
That post now has over 36 million views, 800,000 reactions, over 28,000 comments, and 24,000 connection requests – from every industry, title, and corner of the world.
From having Cisco’s very own executives Maria Martinez and Gerri Elliot tweeting about my post to the amount of local and global journalists that reached out to me for interviews (including Good Morning America) and comments – it felt like I was dreaming.
The first round of comments seemed to be in response to the personal journey I had just shared about embracing the “new normal” of 2020. But then, the comments took on a life of their own and many conversations sprouted from the seeds I had planted.
- What does it even mean to be “professional”?
- Are the standards of ‘professional appearance’ different by gender or ethnicity?
- Should LinkedIn even have a photo upload option at all?
- “I was moved by your post…I’m not the same person I was in January.”
- From job seekers, new grads, African Americans and older adults came the realities that stem from stereotypes we clearly need to challenge: “That’s great that you can do this. But I can’t.”
And, of course, there were detractors who ranged from disagreeable to downright rude (I’ve done my best to remove and report the offensive ones). As well as opinionated comments on which woman in the two photos people would prefer to work with. Many failed to remember that both photos were the same person, with the same education, skills and experiences – but the woman on the left would “get the job” because she “cared more about her appearance.”
Like so many others, 2020 has sparked meaningful moments of self-reflection about what’s most important in my life. Not only have my relationships and routines shifted, but so have my priorities. Worrying about how ‘professional’ I appear to others in an effort to prove that I am capable, talented, and care about my job (all things that should stem from my work ethic and results, not my appearance, mind you) – is not how I want to spend my precious energy, nor is it the type of company or culture I want to work in.
And luckily, because I work at Cisco, I don’t have to.
Yes, I wanted to share this experience with others. I wanted to connect with others. (I think it’s safe to say I did both.) But if I dig even deeper, I wrote the post because I work for Cisco and am surrounded and inspired by authentic leaders who have encouraged vulnerability and individuality at work – and they back that up by supporting us in whatever way we need, too.
For example, when I told my manager that the attention I was receiving from this post was overwhelming at times, she – very seriously – asked me if I was okay and inquired about what kind of support I needed.
In short, when Cisco says, “Be you, with us” – we really mean it. From our execs to our interns, our unique attributes are our strength, and our talents mean so much more than our profile photos.
So, whether the working “you” is dressing down, or dressing up, or a mix of both – know that being your authentic self is a true strength. I feel strongly that people do their best work when they feel safe enough to be themselves – and I know that Cisco believes this too.
Thank you, Cisco, for helping me develop these important values that I will gladly and proudly continue to share with my children and the world.
For Lauren’s original post on LinkedIn, click here.
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This is a really inspirational post, I am glad that Lauren was able to upload this picture, as it takes the strain from the pressures to look perfect in the corporate world. I always felt more anxious when I had to look put together at my previous workplace, but whilst being at Cisco, I felt like a more happier and confident human being 🙂
I have worked with Lauren closely and I can vouch this blog and the linked in post is as authentic as she is. Kudos to Lauren and many such wonderful men and women of Cisco across the globe.
Lauren, This post has incredible depth! The authenticity and vulnerability of your message drives the real meaning related to the value of diversity and an inclusive culture. Thank you for taking us on your journey.
I remember seeing the post on LinkedIn when you first posted it and I thought how great it was and of course so real, I love it! It’s so cool that it went viral, although I’m not sure how you handled all those requests LOL?! Great to see this follow up article on the effect you’ve had on so many! 🙂
Lauren, bravo for putting yourself out there and I love all of the conversations and checking of assumptions it generated both for you and those who read your post! The diversity of responses you received highlighted how many ways your message can be interpreted, several of which you may have never intended (and honestly, ones I had never even considered). I found it to be a wonderful example of how much our eyes can be opened by seeing things through another’s lived experience. Thank you for your your courage and candor, and I so appreciate you sharing your whole self with us. <3
As long-term Cisconian (20yrs!) I can relate! I don’t look the part of a corporate professional 90% of time! I prefer jeans, t-shirt and baseball hat, but dress up a bit when I go in to the office or have meetings with those higher up. I don’t hide my tattoos and while I do try to curb my prolific use of curse words in certain circles, I am grateful to the folks who understand and let me be unreservedly myself. Thanks for sharing this internally and for being real. In a year when so much has changed for each one of us and we may only be shells of our pre-pandemic selves, I know now more than ever we are all growing, ever changing beings!
Wowww!!! I saw your picture and read yoru story in LinkedIn and I didn’t know it was you! Thanks for sharing your story 🙂
Such a great article Lauren! Thank you for sharing.
Such a fantastic story in so many ways. I love that your authenticity struck such a nerve with so many. #LoveWhereYouWork #LoveWhoYouWorkWith
I loved this! I appreciate the realistic view into working from home and what its like to be a woman and the amount of time we spend “getting ready” every day. Thank you Lauren for reminding me that a trip to the drybar isnt always needed and its OK to be free of expectations!
I love this article and definitely find myself looking different than I did back in March. For one thing, I don’t look as tired as I did back then. Eliminating a commute will do that to you. I love both pictures!
Great post on the importance of being authentic to yourself, those you work with, and those you lead.
Thanks, Lauren, and thanks, Cisco, for encouraging ALL of us to show up as who we really are underneath all of the polish and window dressing. Truly connected experiences are only possible we each embody our most authentic expression.
Thanks Lauren. I first joined Cisco almost 21 years ago and the thing that I struggled with was the fear of aging, but it was a short meeting with Charlie Johnston several weeks back that turned it for me. He said something that I had heard a million times “be your authentic self”. I had just found out that my bodies electrical system was broken and my heart was working at about 20% capacity. I FEARED telling anyone because this is what happens to Old people, but for some reason Charlie’s words stuck, so I told my leaders, they were all in on me getting better. Last week I got a pacemaker and other than the healing I feel literally 21 years younger. I guess my message is, fear grips us all. My fear of a perception could have cost me my life or at least cost me to suffer through long work days feeling fatigued and overworked and not be myself for my family. But that little nagging, “be your authentic self” for some reason at that moment in time became my rallying cry. I am sure that there are others hiding behind the facade of perpetual youth, I would encourage you to “lean in to getting older”, and “truly be your authentic self”.
The contrast between these two pictures defies quantification. The differences also speak to stereotypes that have existed for far too long. The picture on the left shows WHAT a successful professional is (was?) expected to be. The picture on the right, of the same person, displays WHO the successful person IS. JOY and CONFIDENCE are undeniable in the second, those qualities replace stiffness and conformity in the first. Kudos for having the courage to change. I hope my own children feel as empowered.
I saw and liked this post weeks ago on LinkedIn without even realizing Lauren was a Cisco colleague! Seeing it now here makes me reflect again on how much I appreciate the new-normal acceptance of working from home. As a long-time telecommuting pro, it feels more and more that we’re being recognized for our ability to self-manage, prioritize, and be highly productive from our own desks, regardless of clothing choices and other superficial distractions. I’ve never been great at hiding my authentic self, and that self likes nothing but open windows, natural hair, comfy clothes, and wooly socks. I know this acceptance isn’t universal from or for everyone, but I’m hopeful we’re moving in the right direction.
Lauren – you are amazing and always professional. I am thrilled to be someone who has experienced your authenticity first-hand.
Thank you for prompting some very important conversations. We can all stand to be reminded of our humanity and be called to account for those times where we may have placed too much importance on appearance.
Kudos to you!
This is amazing! Love your story and thank you for addressing the new norm!
I read your post on LinkedIn and couldn’t agree more. I am a single mother of 9 yr old triplets, so the struggle to get everyone ready for “school” online, feed them and then look presentable is real. I try to work out several mornings a week to keep my sanity so often by 9am I’m still in workouts and a pony tail. Sorry/ not sorry. Its a fine line for women, but easier for men. I noticed many judgements from men our your post about “hey brush your hair” etc. As a curly hair girl, I get it!!! “Professional” should be more about what and how we do our jobs, not about if we look a certain way. I applaud you and your curly hair 😉
A+ on the change. Be yourself!! Don’t let anyone dictate who you really are!
It really does not and SHOULD not matter how we dress or how our makeup is applied or our hair is done. As you rightly stated….the most important part of “me” is my experience, education …basically what I bring to the table at work.
Hello Lauren! I am one of the Cisco peeps that sent connection request and was so impressed by this post. Thanks for sharing- you are courageous and inspiring. Loved it!
Wow — this! Incredible post. Thank you for sharing it and starting bold conversations. Love the photos you’ve included in the post!
LOVE your manager and YOU! Thank you for sharing this and taking a step that seems so simple, but in most ways is so huge. #authenticbeauty
Lauren, what a courageous approach. I really love that. There are so few people who are able to be just them. You are now an example for the others. Bravo ! I hope lots of people will follow you. You are authentic and unique. You are Lauren !
Love Your post Lauran!! I 100% echo the same sentiments.
This is a fabulous post. That’s why I love Cisco! Because we can show up as our authentic selves to work.
I love this! I have used a picture that is so old for everything because it looked professional from a company that required we look like something we are not and it has never been me! I am a remote worker now for many years and always been afraid to say I am a hard worker and why does it matter if I am not in a suit all the time with the perfect make-up and hair! Thank you for speaking out!
Lauren I applaud and thank you for bringing to the surface (CEC & on LinkedIN) something that plagues most women universally! No makeup, grey hair, ageism perceptions need to be broken. I hope as more leaders like you celebrate being authentic, genuine and vulnerable these will become badges of wisdom, maturity and confidence vs. the stereotypes imposed on many of us! I am seriously considering updating my directory photo (which was taken 20 yrs. ago) to show how I have embraced my grey hair!
Thanks Lauren for sharing this post. Very inspirational and relevant to the new normal. Its has always crossed my mind on how I present myself to work everyday with the lines between personal & professional commitments intertwined while working from home. Being ones authentic self always brings out the best and we should not worry about appearances. Being professional should be more about how we do our jobs and not about if we look a certain way. Kudos to you!
I shared your posting with both my daughters and my close friends. I hope your message continues to travel in the virtual world and adopted by other strong wonderful ladies that feel they have to be someone they are not in order to cater to societies expectations. Thanks for sharing Lauren
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