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Apologies in advance: I needed to vent
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.********** Participation and subscription information for this EDUCAUSE Constituent Group discussion list can be found at http://www.educause.edu/groups/.
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."
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?
Director, Network & Systems, CIS
Director, Network & Systems, CIS