As an intern, I’ve thought a lot about how I can leave my mark at such a big tech company and stand out amongst the crowd. When I asked for advice on this, I received much of the same commentary: “Network, network, network!” and while I connected with many people through one-on-ones – I still felt like I was missing something.

What I was really looking for was a community.

Personal relationships are valuable, yes. But there’s nothing like a group of people who have a shared goal in building each other up and connecting. After tagging along to an event one day, I found the exact thing I had been looking for in the Connected Black Professionals (CBP) – an Employee Resource (ERO) Group at Cisco!

I sat in on a meeting about elevator pitches and personal branding hosted by Amber Richardson-Booker. During this meeting, I not only learned about myself, but also about others in the room; we connected over shared experiences and problem-solving everyday issues. It was a great event, and with this experience under my belt – I thought it would be even better to see it tailored to interns.

How could we bridge the gap between interns and full time hires within one space? After asking around a bit, I learned that no spaces existed for black interns specifically to connect with members of CBP.

Shirley Chisolm, the first black congresswoman and the first black candidate to pursue a major party nomination for president said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”  After seeing this quote on the Cisco Employee Connection (CEC) page, I reflected on it a lot. I believe that Ms. Chisolm is advising that sometimes we must create our own opportunities in the face of obstacles or lack thereof. Through our works, we can create spaces that were not initially available to us.

So, I decided to make it happen myself.

Three lunches later, we were able to connect six interns with fifteen different professionals cross departmentally where we discussed things like career goals, office locations, and best practices – where interns had questions, the professionals had answers.

What started as a casual meet up, turned into a three-session series with a variety of topics and people every time. And even though my own network was limited at first, I was grateful that Cisco’s full-time staff brought their peers who were more than excited to connect with us.

In the end, I took Ms. Chisolm’s words to heart.

At the beginning of this summer, I wanted to squeeze myself into every possible space, whether it was a good fit or not. And as time went on, I learned that it was better to give a higher quality version of myself to fewer things rather than bringing a lower quality version of myself to many.

When I came across something that I was passionate about, Cisco gave me the tools to make it happen. Where I saw a gap, I aimed to fill it with diverse voices and valuable connections.  And where a space hadn’t yet been created to bring interns and professionals together in CBP, I was able to be the bridge.

Diversity makes a company better, but inclusion and community help it be its best.


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