Melissa Holder's portrait.
                          Photo by Jeno Uche Photography.

I imagine, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 that his parents had no idea that they had given life to one of the world’s greatest civil rights leaders. The same, I’m sure, could be said for the historical leaders before him, and even of today’s leaders.

So, how do leaders become leaders? How can one person spark a movement or shape a culture?

What I’ve learned while working at Cisco is that we all can (and should) be leaders. We are not just encouraged to lead at Cisco and beyond – but we’re empowered to do so. And through initiatives like our Employee Resource Organizations (ERO) and our Conscious Culture, together we are working towards a more inclusive future for all.

That’s right! At Cisco, we’re not just building tomorrow’s leaders through the products and services we sell as a technology company – but we’re actively building stronger communities, having courageous conversations, and changing the world together.

With 25 EROs and 25,000 active members participating in over 44 countries – each ERO (like Connected Black Professionals, Women of Cisco, PRIDE or Conexión) provides a welcoming, safe space for Cisco employees to think and grow. We connect in so many ways, too. From college career days, galas, and community service to game nights, professional development, and reverse mentorship – our EROs help us to see and understand that not only can we all learn from one another, but we can be allies for one another, too.

In turn, this collaboration between cultures, genders and identities makes for a better Cisco – and (you guessed it!) a better world. It is something I am not only proud of Cisco for supporting, but a reason I truly love where I work.

As we celebrate Black History Month, we will be reminded of the courage and leadership of those who have come before us like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis. There will be those you know, those you need to know, and even present-day leaders, like our first Black, South Asian, female Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris.

This month makes me think back to when I was a young girl, having just been asked to recite Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech – I was so excited! I rushed home, placed the record on the player and listened on repeat. I practiced the emphasis that Dr. King projected, but I wasn’t exactly connecting with the electrifying meaning of his words. It would be years before I realized that his speech was demonstrative of his feelings or see the courage and leadership it took to deliver such a profound message during that time.

It would be years before I understood what it took to lead, and how each of these leaders needed to find their “free” in freedom.

Collage of woman with purple hair and Pride flag and four women in Hijabs.

For me, freedom refers to living vs. existing. Existing is easy, living is harder. Living allows you to stretch beyond the boundaries of mediocracy. It is living a life without barriers, or as Cisco says, “bringing your whole self to work” and “be you, with us.” Those aren’t just taglines or marketing pitches, either – but every bit a part of our culture and who we are as a company. It is sewn into our fabric, and in something we call our “Conscious Culture.” (Yet another example of how we’re leading the way.)

Living in the world of a Conscious Culture is knowing that we will not all share the same beliefs at the same time, but we are open to being respective of the values and freedoms of others. It is in embracing someone for who they are – whether their hair is purple, red, kinky or covered by a Hijab. It is in understanding that our pronouns are powerful and meaningful. It is in living your life with purpose, and not only standing up for what is right – but what is fair. And it is in creating the change you wish to see. It is in knowing we all can lead.

Our Conscious Culture allows every Cisconian to find our “free” in freedom, to be who we truly are.

When I recited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words as a young girl, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” they had no meaning. I was performing. I simply hadn’t experienced enough, nor had I learned enough.

However, today, these words mean everything. And I’m proud to work for a company that encourages employees to dig deep, embrace all, and celebrate everyone as we lead the way for an inclusive future for all.

Ready to be you, with us? Apply now.

Read more from Melissa Holder today on LinkedIn.

Featured image by TR Peterson Photography.


Melissa Holder

Customer Success Executive

CX Customer Success SP Americas