I didn’t start my career in marketing – or at Cisco. I used to be a full-time civil litigator and a part-time adjunct lecturer. By day, I picked apart multi-million-dollar insurance contract language. By night, I picked apart graduate student essays (in all their handwritten glory).
So, you could say my road to Cisco was a bit different from most.
Our daughter Helene was born in 2007. That same year, Cisco became one of the first California employers to offer employees health insurance coverage that included autism-related benefits – a fact I knew only because of my work in the insurance arena, and one that had no particular relevance to me – or anyone I knew – at the time.
But, in late 2009, Helene was diagnosed with autism.
Cisco did not immediately spring to mind then as our family was, perhaps, slightly preoccupied. Instead, my husband and I were cycling through the stages many parents go through after a child’s diagnosis: confusion, anger, pain, denial, guilt, panic, acceptance. The road to understanding and accepting is hard and bumpy; there are a lot of wrong turns and misdirection along the way. But, there was always this truth: before Helene’s pediatrician uttered the word “autism,” Helene was our beautiful, happy, loving, funny, amazing little ball of nerd. Nothing her doctor said to us that day or any of the days after changed that truth.
Cisco did come to my mind after several years of our family juggling high-stress careers, a middle-schooler in competitive marching band, and a kindergartner with a school and therapy schedule equivalent to that of a full-time job. California had yet to mandate insurance coverage for autism therapies (that didn’t happen until 2012), so the out-of-pocket costs were crushing us along with the crazy schedules.
I’d like to say I had some one-hour-TV-drama moment where I sat amid this swirling chaos, suddenly recalled a random insurance-industry headline from four years earlier, and had a lightbulb appear above my head. Instead, the moment happened over coffee with my sister. As I shared (for the eleventy billionth time) how intensely I disliked being a lawyer, my sister rolled her eyes so hard, you can probably still hear it. And she (as all good sisters do) called me on it: get out or quit complaining.
Get out where? I couldn’t just STOP working. My sister’s response was simple: “Why not Cisco?” She added, “I have really good benefits.” It was then that I remembered that article about Cisco’s autism-related benefits!
In 2013, I joined Cisco’s Global Partner Organization as an administrative assistant. And – yes, going from a lawyer arguing cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to an admin in a completely new field was humbling. It raised a lot of eyebrows. It probably spawned a lot of Google searches. But, it was the smartest career decision I ever made. (As an aside, there is no role in any organization that will give you a fuller view of the organization than an admin role. An admin’s entire job is to see everything, to know where everything is, and to connect it all.)
Cisco’s incredible health insurance benefits were indisputably game-changing for Helene as an individual and for our family’s financial well-being. But the benefit I thought least about before taking the job – and the one that came to matter the most to our family – was remote work.
For the past six+ years, working from home enabled me to be here for my family – both literally and figuratively. It brought our lives back into balance. It allowed both my husband and I to continue to enjoy professional pursuits and to provide for our family today as well as plan for Helene’s as-yet-uncertain future.
Remote work also made me a more effective employee. I can take early morning or late-night calls without disrupting our usual family routines – which makes me willing to do it. I can also step away for an Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting without disrupting my team’s work days.
Having a genuine ability to balance (even integrate!) my work and my life means that I don’t have to choose between making a valuable contribution to my team at work and my team at home – I can truly do both. It is a remarkable feeling to know that being a better mom makes me a better teammate, which makes me a happier, more well-rounded person, which makes me a better mom. (Yes, I am humming Circle of Life in my head and thinking about baby Simba.)
It’s hard to overstate the positive impact this decision and Cisco have had on my daughter as well. Because I’m home with her, she gets to see her mom in a lot of different roles – as a mom, as a wife, as a working professional. She’s probably learning more about marketing than she ever wanted to know. I think, most importantly, she sees an attainable future.
It’s not my place to divulge publicly how autism presents for Helene; that’s her decision when she’s ready. I can say that much of how Helene comfortably interacts with the world includes some assistance from technology. Watching her mom work in a familiar, safe environment through collaboration technology has the potential to ignite in Helene aspirations beyond what she can imagine for herself today.
Coming to work at Cisco put me in an environment in which I can thrive – not just survive – not only because of our technology but because of my teammates and colleagues who have reached out a hand to pull me up and to push me forward.
Cisco changed the way I work, live and play – when there was never a better time to do those things – and let me build a bridge from “Mom” to Content Strategist and back again.
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