Growing up, I was always fascinated with gadgets. I oftentimes found myself following in my father’s footsteps, always tinkering with science kits, robotics kits, computers, etc. This love and affinity for technology was the reason I chose to a pursue an engineering degree as an undergraduate – a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering.
While I attended North Carolina A&T State University – a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) – where most of my peers were Black, the engineering school was a mix of Black and Indian males, with very few females making up the population.
Throughout the engineering school, we were known as “the onlys.” Little did I know this would be a badge of honor I would wear once I graduated and entered corporate America.
I was one out of six Black Associate Systems Engineers (ASEs) in my Cisco Sales Associates Program (CSAP) class, and one out of three Black female ASEs. I became the “only” Black female engineer on various teams after CSAP – which, admittedly made me feel like an outcast or as if I didn’t belong.
I didn’t see others who looked like me doing these jobs – or others who looked like me progressing in their careers.
I often spoke with my dad about this experience, asking for guidance and motivation, and sometimes even giving him a hard time (as we daughters tend to do.) Once, I asked, “Dad, why did you let me play with computers and robots, and play basketball versus encouraging me to play with dolls like all of the other girls?”
His response rang loud and clear, “I didn’t want you to be like all the other girls. I wanted you to be something different – and to show your friends, colleagues and even those younger than yourself something different!”
This is one of the reasons I chose to pursue leadership at Cisco.
In various aspects of my professional journey, I was at one point in time – or still am – the “only” – the “only” female engineer, the “only” Black employee, the “only” Black manager. This fuels my desire to climb the leadership track.
Being the “only” can either be a distraction or motivator. I choose to use it as a motivator and fuel my fire to want and to achieve more! The experiences of my past continue to remind me that my pursuit of happiness is bigger than me. It’s about the next generation and working to create more seats at the leadership table where they will no longer be the “only.”
As a result of my experiences and upbringing, I am doing a few things both professionally and personally to promote and foster an all-inclusive culture. In my personal life, I am continuing the dialogue around systemic racism with family, friends and loved ones. I am continuing the dialogue within my community, as well as with others from different races and backgrounds. I fully believe inclusion requires consistency in actions versus a point-in-time narrative. I am involved in mentoring and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs in underprivileged neighborhoods, with a laser focus on development of middle school to high school aged students.
While professionally, I mentor early-in-career engineers, particularly within our Black and women communities at Cisco. These two groups combined are well under-represented within the engineering field, and the percentages lower further as it relates to leadership and senior leadership.
These mentoring sessions not only focus on professional development – notably, technology, sales acumen, branding and networking – but also on life skills as they relate to investment, financial stability, giving back and navigating corporate America. These skills are imperative to not only set the next generation up for individual success, but also to create a more diverse culture in which different experiences and backgrounds co-exist and can be utilized for new ideas and creative thinking!
At Cisco, our mission is to empower an inclusive future for all – and I am proud that my voice will be part of that conversation and movement to help bridge gaps that previously existed.
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