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International Women's Day: Leading with Impact

International Women's Day: Leading with Impact
Rola Dagher, President of Cisco Canada, delves into what helped her be successful and why diversity is good for everyone.
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International Women's Day: Leading with Impact

International Women's Day: Leading with Impact

Rola Dagher

President, Cisco Canada

March 08, 2018
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On March 7th, Cisco employees came together - from different genders, races, ethnicities, orientations, and religions - for a global event called Women of Impact (WOI). An event aligned to International Women's Day that celebrated and advocated for inclusion and diversity in the workplace. It was the first time I attended WOI at Cisco, and I was thoroughly impressed by the level of conversation, engagement, and candor. More than anything, I was encouraged by the number of people willing and wanting to take action.

Diversity and inclusion is one of the most pressing topics of this decade, and in Canada we have been leading the charge in many respects - where we ranked 10 among 95 countries based on the McKinsey Global Institute Women Equality Index. Our labor landscape has changed considerably in the last few decades. Technology has helped automate jobs and changed the nature of work. Globalization has increased trade and reshaped entire industries. But one of the most apparent changes of all is the participation of women in the workplace. As of 2016, according to Statistics Canada, women represented slightly more than 50% of Canada's total population and made up 48% of the total labor force. What’s more, Canadian women are more educated than ever, making up 52 % of college graduates.

However, when we scratch the surface and look deeper at the numbers, there are some downbeat realities.   Yes, more women are working in Canada, but the increase can be largely attributed to low paying jobs.  Also, the number of females in executive positions is less than impressive, with only 25% senior managers in the private sector being women. Not to mention that this number shrinks immensely when we look at female leadership in the technology sector.  With the IT skills gap increasing, we need more women to step in, take leadership, and shape this industry. An industry that should reflect more than half the country’s population.

As a female leader in tech sector, one question that I often get asked is “how you got to where you are OR what helped you be successful”?   In my case, there are several catalysts that shaped my success, but for the sake of time I’ll sum them up into three. It starts with LOVE what you do.

Passion - if you don’t have a purpose, follow your passion and your purpose will fall into place. For me, it was the passion for technology and the impact it brings to human progress. It’s also the passion I have for people and their ability to lead the transformation (Because technology is the enabler but people are the transformers). Passion fuels confidence, it creates excitement, and more than anything it’s very contagious. If you want a high performing team – lead with passion. That’s how I lead my team every day at Cisco and in my past leadership roles.

Second, be a student of life.  If you aren’t willing to learn, no one can help you. If you’re determined to learn, no one can stop you. Being in the tech sector, similar to any fast-moving industry, knowledge becomes obsolete in no time and new skills need to be learned. As females, we tend to keep our hands down. According to a recent study, for every question a female asks at a conference, men ask two! Stay curious, ask questions, and always take every experience - good and bad - as learning. I had several difficult learnings in my life that made me into a better person. Remember, failure is an option to learn from but giving UP should never be an option.

Third: surround yourself with accelerators. Leadership was never something that fell on my lap. Leadership is a choice and as leaders we have the responsibility to impact, empower, and inspire. I was lucky enough to have leaders in my life that did that for me.  A major catalyst for success – regardless of any profession – is to surround yourself with people who inspire you to go out of your comfort zone and empower you to IMPACT. From a personal perspective, I surround myself with my family - the rock of my life. On a professional level, I surround myself with accelerators who not only mentor me but advocate on my behalf. People who PUSH ME to be uncomfortable, because comfort and growth never co-exist and if you’re comfortable you aren’t trying hard enough.  

Regardless of which stage you are in your career, life, and in fulfilling your proffesional aspirations - you need to OWN your path. One common theme at WOI that will stay with me is:  change starts with the person in the mirror. Yes, it starts with YOU. YOU miss 100 of the shots you don't take so always have the courage to be uncomfortable, be open to learning, and get inspired by people.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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