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I swear this isn't a huge whine.  But I needed to get it out.  I wrote this after a meeting at Cisco Systems in New York City yesterday, a place where gender roles are a little too obvious.  I thought some of you may 1) relate or 2) have suggestions for helping me help them (Cisco) improve things.

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An open letter to John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems
December 15th, 2011Dear Mr. Chambers:

My name is Emily Harris, and I am currently the Director of Networks and Systems at a small college in  New York State.  We have an IT Department of 40 employees, and I have the pleasure of serving as one of four directors that report to the Vice President for Computing and Information Services.  As part of the senior management team, I provide strategic direction in the realm of servers, network technologies, and telecommunications for the campus and community and manage an excellent technical team.

 

It probably does not surprise you that we are a Cisco client.  In my years of working with networking technologies, I have seen first hand the pervasiveness of Cisco in this field.  When I came to my current position in 2008, all components of the wired and wireless networks were already standardized on Cisco technologies, and at this time we have no intention of changing our strategy.

 

I am writing you today to inquire about what Cisco Systems is doing to encourage workplace diversity, particularly in terms of female representation in customer sales and engineering.  Having just returned from your Customer Briefing Center in Manhattan, I was again struck by the obvious division of labor in the NY office.  Upon entering, I am encountered by two female employees who check me in and point me to my room.  I then pass another reception area with a woman behind a computer assisting customers.  And then I spend the next four hours with 8 sales people and engineers, all of whom are men.

 

Gender diversity in technology is not an issue unique to Cisco.  However, having come to my management position through other opportunities in network engineering, I have spent my career being part of a very small minority.  And since my experience with networking hardware is primarily Cisco, your company is always at the forefront of my mind.

 

In 2006 when I was working at a college in New York City, I was responsible for the setup, configuration, and maintenance of our Cisco systems.  I will never forget a meeting I had at the One Penn Plaza location where I pointed out to our sales representative that I never see female engineers.  He looked at me and said, "We do have one female engineer here.  And she is actually quite good."

 

Actually?

 

Another time I went to the NY office alone for a deep session on the 6509 product and high availability options, including HSRP.  It took the first 20 minutes of the meeting for the switching specialist to realize that yes, I knew what I was talking about.  By 2006 this was a familiar hurdle - I had already endured years in networking where my first goal in any meeting with a new Cisco sales person or engineer was to make sure they understood that I was the technical person and needed to be addressed accordingly.  In fact I had one sales person in the late 90s that wouldn't look me in the eye and would only communicate with my non-technical (and male) manager, who we subsequently had to have removed from our account, given his very clear prejudices.

 

A few months after the 6509 technical session I attended the Cisco Christmas party, and the engineer from the session recognized me and even remembered my name.  When I complimented him on his memory, he responded, "How could I forget you?  You made quite an impression."

 

His meaning was clear:  I was probably the only female client he had presented that type of information to.  And I wonder if in the years since, he has ever had that opportunity again.

 

I have 16 years of experience in Information Technology.  I have come to accept my status as a minority in this field and have learned some interesting ways of coping with the disparity.  But to be honest, I am really tired.  Women have made great strides in equality over the last 50 years but it is obvious how much further we have to go.

 

I am currently managing a large project and we invited seven companies to come talk to us about their product lines.  This resulted in eight presentations, as Cisco came twice, due to a bit of a snag on their first attempt.  At each of these eight presentations I was the only woman in the room.  And in the second Cisco presentation, I was outnumbered 9 to 1.

 

I am really, really, tired.

 

When the chit chat earlier today turned to jokes about buying wives pretty Christmas gifts, I almost left the CBC.  It is enough to make me want to give up.

 

I realize that Cisco has women's initiatives in place, and your website proudly displays information on diversity in your hiring.  However, your own statistics show that the hiring is in communications and finance.  What is the male to female ratio in your own IT department?  Specifically, how many women configure your data and phone networks?  Where are the female engineers and sales people?  Why, in my 16 years of IT experience, have I never worked with a woman at Cisco, except for the receptionist in the NY office who points me to my briefing area and the woman who escorts me from the demo circle to the telepresence room?  Is this the best that your diversity efforts can do?

 

Women in engineering and technology are out there.  I know I am in the minority but I am not alone.  Some time in the years left of my career I would like to walk into a room of Cisco engineers and not be encountered with a surprised, "OH!" when I tell them to talk techie to me.

 

Is that to much to ask?  And how, Mr. Chambers, can you help?

 

Sincerely,

Emily Harris




--
Emily Harris
Director, Network & Systems, CIS
Vassar College
845-437-7221

********** Participation and subscription information for this EDUCAUSE Constituent Group discussion list can be found at http://www.educause.edu/groups/.

Comments

Message from parlettm@union.edu

AMEN!
Emily -  I can relate to all of your experiences and have to compliment you on how well you have articulated this.

Mary Parlett-Sweeney
Union College


I will be curious to hear if you get a response. Please be sure to share, if you do.
-- 
Cathy McVey | Sr Director of Strategic Communications & Planning | IT Services | Miami University
V: 513.529.1379 | C: 513.330.1978 | E: mcveyc@muohio.edu
IT @ Miami...imagine the future together

From: "Parlett-Sweeney, Mary E." <parlettm@UNION.EDU>
Reply-To: The EDUCAUSE ITWomen Constituent Group Listserv <ITWOMEN@listserv.educause.edu>
Date: Fri, 16 Dec 2011 16:46:31 -0500
To: "ITWOMEN@listserv.educause.edu" <ITWOMEN@listserv.educause.edu>
Subject: Re: [ITWOMEN] Apologies in advance: I needed to vent

AMEN!
Emily -  I can relate to all of your experiences and have to compliment you on how well you have articulated this.

Mary Parlett-Sweeney
Union College


Bravo! Ms. Emily. I understand how you feel.

 

About a month ago, I had the privilege of attending my first meeting with a dominant number of female engineers and analysts for a migration project. The representatives for Networks (Sr. Network Architect - Cisco), Server and Storage (Sr. Unix Engineer), IT Security and Compliance (myself)  were all females. The rest were stakeholders to whom we presented all possible solutions with the current technical concerns. It was like an epiphany and absolutely refreshing. This may sound like a cliché’ but for once, I did not feel alone in a room or be the only female amongst all the men. Don’t get me wrong. I have much respect for men in our field but it is nice to see respected women in these roles, especially, as equals.

 

I look forward to a more diverse environment. (^_^)b

 

Do let us know what Cisco’s response is to your letter.

 

Respectfully yours,

--
Abigail Burton
Sr. Information Security Analyst
Enterprise IT Security & Compliance
Baylor College Of Medicine
http://www.bcm.edu

 

From: The EDUCAUSE ITWomen Constituent Group Listserv [mailto:ITWOMEN@LISTSERV.EDUCAUSE.EDU] On Behalf Of McVey, Cathy
Sent: Friday, December 16, 2011 4:02 PM
To: ITWOMEN@LISTSERV.EDUCAUSE.EDU
Subject: Re: [ITWOMEN] Apologies in advance: I needed to vent

 

I will be curious to hear if you get a response. Please be sure to share, if you do.

-- 

Cathy McVey | Sr Director of Strategic Communications & Planning | IT Services | Miami University
V: 513.529.1379 | C: 513.330.1978 | E: mcveyc@muohio.edu
IT @ Miami...imagine the future together

 

From: "Parlett-Sweeney, Mary E." <parlettm@UNION.EDU>
Reply-To: The EDUCAUSE ITWomen Constituent Group Listserv <ITWOMEN@listserv.educause.edu>
Date: Fri, 16 Dec 2011 16:46:31 -0500
To: "ITWOMEN@listserv.educause.edu" <ITWOMEN@listserv.educause.edu>
Subject: Re: [ITWOMEN] Apologies in advance: I needed to vent

 

AMEN!

Emily -  I can relate to all of your experiences and have to compliment you on how well you have articulated this.

Mary Parlett-Sweeney

Union College




Nicely done! Interested in their response. 


Sent from my iPad

Doesn't EDUCAUSE have some stats on gender and IT roles in Higher Education? Certainly there are enough of us to sponsor this list, and to get the "you go, girl" responses to your venting. There must be some numbers that demonstrate that we are out here, if they would just look.

In our department of 33 IT professionals there are 9 women in technical roles. Sure, we're a minority, but we are here. Perhaps CISCO needs to understand that the working environment can be female friendly, and there are enough of us around to make it matter.

The sad truth is that "female friendly" isn't what the math and sciences are, even in education. We simply aren't attracting enough "girl geeks" as students to make hiring women a necessity. We need to get to that point.

Nikki

I very much appreciate the feedback both on this list and off. It's too bad I don't use Twitter, otherwise I would tweet it (I just never thought I'd have anything interesting to say that anyone would bother following me). I just put it on my Facebook page and on this list, so I doubt it will go anywhere. But feel free to share it if you wish. Happy holidays everyone! -- Emily Harris Director, Network & Systems, CIS Vassar College 845-437-7221 ********** Participation and subscription information for this EDUCAUSE Constituent Group discussion list can be found at http://www.educause.edu/groups/.

I was really struck by last month's conversation on this list about gender and IT roles (see below), and I started thinking that it would be great to discuss these issues in our AAUW Community Lecture series, held in our research and classroom space, "Minerva" in the virtual world Second Life.  

Would anyone be interested in participating?  I don't know if any of you have attended the AAUW events on Minerva, but we have talks, workshops and concerts, and people participate with their avatars.  We usually hold the events on the weekend.  I'm thinking of a panel discussion, just talking about personal experience, no prepared notes, no presentations (though if you wanted to show something on a powerpoint, nothing could be easier).

To participate, you'd have to have a fairly recent computer, good (but not phenomenal) broadband, and a headset. Basically, it's an animated phone call, but unlike on Skype, you don't have to comb your hair.  I can coach you if you haven't used SL before.

You can see some of the things we have done in the past at: http://bit.ly/1tnCb1

If you are already in Second Life and would like to see the auditorium: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Minerva/61/225/28

The nice thing about Second LIfe is that you can participate as yourself (we can even make an avatar that looks like you!) but if you don't want to do that, you can participate using a pseudonym, with your job description serving as your identity.  People would certainly feel more free to talk in a situation like that.  I think it might be a useful contribution.

What do you think?

Let me know.

Sharon (in Second Life: Ellie Brewster)


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