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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