This March, in honor of National Women’s History Month, we are celebrating the incredible women who have made contributions to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields-- like Kimone Gooden and Denise Lombard of the San Jose chapter of the Cisco Connected Women. This employee resource group contributes to a strategic effort to enhance Cisco's success in hiring and developing talented female employees, and support Cisco's goal to achieve a more diverse, globally competitive workforce. Kimone and Denise are co-leads of the Connected Women Outreach Pillar, which focuses on increasing awareness and excitement of STEM careers in middle school and high school girls. When they were introduced to Citizen Schools, which aims to close the opportunity gap for under-privileged middle school students, it was a perfect fit.
Many meetings at high technology companies are still populated by a majority of men versus women, something Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, talks about openly in her newly released book, Lean In. The Connected Women of San Jose, Outreach Pillar at Cisco are working tirelessly to expose and encourage young women to explore the vast opportunities in technology related careers that they are more than capable of achieving.
Cisco is a long-time national partner of Citizen Schools-- leading hands-on “apprenticeship” classes on topics such as networking, robotics, marketing and more. Denise said, “When I heard about Cisco’s strong relationship with Citizen Schools, I immediately thought, what an excellent partnership opportunity for our team. The Citizen Schools program provides the structure, support system and platform for us to reach out and make a positive difference to these bright, capable young women.”
Citizen Schools also allows the group to work directly with the population that the Connected Women want to target. “In the past we worked with schools in more privileged areas. Most of the girls had a newer model phone than I did. They were already very knowledgeable about technology and most of their parents held successful positions in the tech industry. Citizen Schools allows us to work with girls who don't have the same exposure. We have the chance to bring them up to the same level,” Denise said.
The young ladies in the Cisco apprenticeship class are well on their way to becoming the next generation of world class women in technology. Already, in the first few weeks of the class, the girls have learned about the variety of STEM careers available from fashion, to music, to mobile phone application development.
They even got to visit the Executive Briefing Center at Cisco and experience the power of technology through the Teleconference system. On their exploration to Cisco, the girls were introduced to a panel of career networking women.
"It gave them awareness that so many opportunities exist for women which may not have been apparent to them before. They had so many questions. I could see the light bulbs going off in their heads." Kimone said.
Throughout the class the girls will meet women leaders who are experts in a number of topics including social media, communications, branding, engineering and project management. Kimone said, "They've already been exposed to ten different professional women since the apprenticeship started. Each week we introduce a new group of volunteers. We've seen the students connect with the women personally, making the experience even more real and accessible."
The Connected Women of Cisco are dispelling a long standing misconception. “Some women still have the perception that they’re not as smart and that they can’t do some of things that men do, such as work in technology fields. I tell them we’re just as smart and we’re all capable,” Denise said.
Once a week, for 10 weeks, these women are carving out a couple of hours of their already demanding schedules to make sure that young girls from low-income communities know that the door is wide open for them.
Special thanks to the women who made this apprenticeship experience happen: Chermaine Garrett, Christine Vaeth, Denise Lombard, Jessica Williamsen, Joy Lavigne, Kimone Gooden, Marlene Baca, Natasha Taymourian, Penny Dodd, Travis Sterne, Sara Steffen, Vandana Agarwal, Ganesh Iyer, Yani Kadar, Vandana Agarwa, Negisa Taymourian, Ganesh Iyer, Jessica Willamsen, Anna Hopper, Sarina Surrette, Natasha Taymourian, Kati Dahm, Aline Ekmekji