Advocating for Success During Women’s History Month

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As Women’s History Month comes to an end, it’s still important to recognize how far we’ve come and understand how far we have to go as we look ahead to what the future holds.

The numbers speak for themselves. Women held 57 percent of all professional occupations in the United States in 2017.* However, the prevalence of women in tech declines as job titles become more technical or specialized. For example, women made up only 25 percent of the workforce in cybersecurity, collaboration, and automation in 2020. As for engineers specifically, men outnumbered women by 5:1.** It’s without a doubt that we have come a long way. The future isn’t bleak, though.

These statistics highlight both the historic journey of women as working professionals, as well as the journey we still must travel. We must work together to challenge bias in the workplace, our social circles, and even within ourselves. Biases come in all shapes and sizes, make no mistake.

However, the odds are in our favor, and I’m confident that we’ll continue to see women secure senior-level roles in tech as we continue forward. As we knock down the barriers that have challenged the ability of women to reach their full potential, the rate at which we see positive change will hasten.

Cisco celebrated International Women’s Day and its 2022 campaign theme, #BreakTheBias, with some words of wisdom from VP of Customer Experience, Par Merat.

Seek learning opportunities

International Women’s Day sets the stage for a time to reflect on a new theme each year. Par Merat, VP of Customer Experience, shared her sentiment on this year’s #BreakTheBias mantra, citing personal wisdom gained from her own experience.

“Advancing your career depends on your stage of life.” Whether you are an individual contributor looking to advance your career, a manager looking to become an executive, or a seasoned professional headed into retirement… challenge yourself. Make sure you continue to learn, gain skills, stay current on technology and industry trends, and understand your personal goals.”

Building on the importance of learning to advance towards success, she explained how learning is the secret to overcoming challenges.

“I ask my kids whenever they have a challenge, ‘What are you learning?’ It’s not always about what you are achieving. It’s what you are learning from each experience. That’s how you can advance personally, and that also come back to you professionally.”

Validate all contributions

Not only is learning a great contributor to success, but as a leader myself, I also believe in the ability to recognize that everything counts. We need to make sure we validate contributions and that we know that together every piece of the puzzle will lead to success.

It’s critical that we recognize and respect each other — always. That’s how we keep our teams balanced.

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

— Former NY State Rep. Shirley Chisholm

Common occurrences like interrupting women may seem trivial to some, but they can have long-term effects. How can women progress in their careers or establish their expertise if their opinions are never heard? Make it a priority to ensure everyone is heard.

Here are some ways that you can fight bias:

  • Speak up for someone in the moment
  • Ask a probing question
  • Stick to the facts
  • Explain how bias is in play
  • Advocate for policy or process change

You can also listen to this Cisco Learning Network Podcast honoring Women’s History Month.

Love what you do

It’s so cliché, but it’s true. Loving what you do is vital to success. As for me, I feel the most validated in my job when I can see the Cisco certification community thrive, listening to stories of how people smartly used Cisco training and certification in their own development.

One great example of support is how my colleague, Matt Saunders (@citylifematt), created a Women in Network Engineering Community Matching Fund in response to some not-so-supportive comments. The positive response from such a diverse segment of our community was incredible, and that makes me the proudest.

Be empathetic, inclusive, and courageous

Another pearl of wisdom that Par shared is to be empathetic and lead with kindness. “We all need to feel safe to take chances in our work environments. And that starts with empathy,” she said. “Be inclusive and lead with empathy with one another and within the organization. And don’t forget to be kind to yourself. Be your own advocate.”

I completely agree, adding one more item to that list.

Courage. It’s important to be confident and secure in understanding what motivates you; why you’re pursuing this job or that career. Par talked about the infamous imposter syndrome, which I admittedly see more in women than men. Men are more likely to take risks and follow their intuition. It’s a deeply rooted confidence that has been reinforced throughout history.

As Women’s History Month ends, let’s continue to overcome obstacles and lead with courage. You can find so many resources that address bias, like educational materials on gender biases, tips for hosting proximity sessions to raise awareness, and ways to help connect employees with women leaders, mentors, and sponsors.

As former NY State Representative Shirley Chisholm said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

You can go a long way if you strive to be your own advocate. And never forget on your journey that you always deserve a seat at the table.

 

* Source: U.S. Department of Labor, 2016; 2017

** Source: TechRadius

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