Can you be a professional, powerful person in the workplace while still setting trends?
May Le had always wanted to dye her hair purple, but having just started a job at Cisco, she wondered if it was the right time. Was there something in the “rule book” that would prevent it? Would it be accepted? Maybe it’s just too edgy, too much for a corporate tech company. “Purple hair might be off the table,” she thought.
But she wanted to be herself, so she thought she’d ask her manager, who surprised her with the ALL IN Cisco attitude. “If you’re going to do it – just rock it!” she said.
“Cisco has this reputation out there for being a boring, stodgy company,” May laughed. “That’s just not the case.”
May says the response has been overwhelmingly positive, and her hair has even been a great conversation starter. From the break room in San Jose to telepresence networking opportunities she’s experienced, and even amongst our Executive Leadership Team – which loves her boldness.
“Our Chief People Officer, Fran Katsoudas saw me on campus and recognized me from a photo I posted in social media, where I said #IChoseCisco because I can be myself! It really showed me how progressive of a company Cisco is, and knowing that I can be myself even at work and freely express my individuality was a defining moment in my career.”
It seems that May was a pioneer for fun hair at Cisco.
I started at Cisco a few months ago, myself. I was coming from the hospitality industry, where it was okay to have hair dyed “naturally blonde,” but not okay to add any touches that would be deemed “not normal,” because that would be disruptive.
For weeks I devoured any documentation that came my way to see what Cisco’s stance on purple hair was (as if they’d have a section called “PURPLE HAIR RULES”). Hindsight being 20/20 – I suppose simply asking the question would’ve been easier, but coming from a world where the answer was a hard “No.” – and, really, a question not to even be entertained – fear of getting rejected latched on to me.
That’s when I also saw May’s #IChoseCisco photo on Twitter, and in one swift moment I was excitedly texting my hair stylist, “I found a girl with a full head of awesomely purple hair…when can I come in?”
It may sound absolutely ridiculous, but as I sat there staring at the finished product – with vibrant purple in my hair – I couldn’t have been happier. I finally felt like “me” again. Cisco gave me that.
Purple hair was my “normal” – and at Cisco that kind of disruption was welcomed energy. In fact, it was almost a non-issue. Why would the color of one’s hair, or a tattoo, or any representation of self keep you from doing great work?
This colored-hair thing was something that my colleague, Carmen Collins, had wanted to try for a while as well.
“When I posted May’s photo on Twitter from the #IChoseCisco contest, I didn’t know her story. I just thought ‘cool hair! I want!’ My issue wasn’t whether Cisco would approve, it was whether everyone else would. (Silly me.)”
Carmen and I would talk about taking that step. We would talk about it here and there throughout our week, and while she would weigh the options – I would egg her on. “Just do it!” I’d say, “It’s just hair color!”
“As I learned May’s story, and saw Casie rocking the look, I decided to let my inner rocker show!”
A few days later, an ombre look with bright pink tips was Carmen’s new adventure. “I decided to go as far as to change my profile images and use the one with my pink hair – even on LinkedIn! I felt like if you’re going to interact with me – you should know who I am. And this is who I am.”
We recently ran a story on our blog about 3 Things to Look for When Choosing a Company. After the “hair revolution of 2015” at Cisco, the three of us thought it would be appropriate to add a fourth reason. Choose a Company that Encourages You to Be Yourself.
I think it’s safe to say that for May, Carmen, and myself – we’re glad we chose Cisco. Where being fun, powerful, and professional – while expressing your individuality – is not just encouraged, but expected too.
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