From Maya Angelou to Michael Jordan, Google never fails with inspirational quotes to bring to team meetings, but this past year I chose to engrave my team’s holiday gifts with Winston Churchill’s quote: “You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.”
As Cisconians, we enjoy a culture that not only allows but encourages us to give back. In fact, Cisco gives us 40 hours each year outside of our paid time off — 80 hours in 2023 — to volunteer in ways in which we’re most passionate. We buy our friends’ children’s Girl Scout cookies and donate to food pantries, but my team wanted to do more this year. I was inspired by one of my team members, Alex, whose wife has dedicated her life to helping others and inspired him to catch the altruism bug.
He inspired my team and me to “do more,” and as a result, we formed the Northeast Collaboration Team Giveback Organization. However, I was struggling to decide what my role should be in this effort. I had previously donated my time moving rocks back and forth for Habitat for Humanity (I don’t think they trusted us with actual tools.), but I kept returning to Alex’s comment, “You can always do more.”
At Cisco, our purpose is “powering an inclusive future for all,” and I’ve always believed that the path to solving our industry’s diversity challenges is reaching out to our youth to introduce them to the tech world early on, so I dug deep into my salesperson skills and reached out to the head of the math and science department at my local high school. After much back and forth, and the promise of some light-up Cisco yo-yos, she agreed to let me and one of my mentees, Gabby Khoury, host our first “Young Women in Tech Day” at the school with the intention of inspiring young women to pursue careers in technology.
We presented to two groups: Girls Who Code and STEM for Women. Gabby and I did our best to provide stories and advice we wished someone had shared with us at the age of 16. We reviewed resume best practices, tips for internship interviewing, and some life advice from two people who are exceptionally proud of their chosen careers. We even talked about identifying your superpowers, my public speaking, and Gabby’s approachability and making people feel comfortable.
When our presentation concluded, and the yo-yos were all claimed, something unexpected happened: very few people left when the bell rang for lunch. Instead, many young women came to the stage to meet us, continue the conversation, and ask questions.
Two students approached Gabby, and after some encouragement from their friend, one shared their gender struggles, which they had never come out and shared before that day. Witnessing Gabby’s superpower of making someone feel comfortable firsthand was inspiring.
Another student came up to ask me some follow-up questions while feverishly taking notes. She was excited but also overwhelmed. After I attempted to answer some of her existential questions, I asked what she thought of the day’s presentation. She said she was so grateful Gabby and I cared enough to come speak with her class because she was feeling overwhelmed that she was not doing enough. She wasn’t sure which college she wanted to attend but was afraid she wouldn’t get in. I listened, smiled, and told her that she would undoubtedly do incredible things with her life because she asked these questions. We planned to keep in touch via email and have follow-up Webex mentorship sessions. She looks forward to applying for Cisco’s next NYC internship program. I can’t wait to hear how her life turns out!
Afterward, Gabby and I couldn’t stop talking about the experience. We left with more than 20 students’ email addresses who wanted to continue with mentorship, and we were formally asked to make this an annual event! We wanted to host this event to encourage more young women to go into technology, but it had just as much impact on us.
I reflect daily on how fortunate I am to lead a team of 12 salespeople. While they are probably tired of my internet quotes and impromptu team-building exercises, we’ve built unity and enjoy a culture that doesn’t exist at other companies, where giving back is such a huge part of it.
As we kick off 2023, I remember how grateful I am to be generously compensated for a job I enjoy with people I love. When I look back on my career, the pride I carry with me won’t be tied to any fiscal achievement but rather to the impact I was able to have on other people’s lives.
I hope to inspire professionals to think outside their job responsibilities and find ways to positively impact others in their professional and personal lives. Whether inspiring a room of 300 female students or just keeping an eye out for someone who needs some thoughtful conversation, I encourage you to think of Winston and Alex … and DO MORE.
Are you inspired to do more? Find an opportunity to join us at Cisco.