Your career can be a dynamic journey that is always evolving and morphing. But I have found that women often feel typecast into a particular role or specialty. During my career of nearly 40 years, I have learned that opportunities are borderless once you realize your skills are transferable and that investing in a professional network can be invaluable as you look to advance.
My career has historically been focused on learning and development, so when I accepted the position as Cisco’s first chief diversity officer, I was not surprised that it was met with some skepticism. I needed to build my credibility across the company and demonstrate that the expertise I had accumulated in the field of learning and development, with a focus on leadership development, was in fact transferable to this role.
I found that my master’s degree in social and systemic studies had prepared me well to lead the large-scale change management that this position required. The communication, learning and development skills that I had acquired during my tenure in IT prepared me to succeed in a complex, fast paced, high-tech environment.
I learned the hard way the importance of building a wide network of people, beyond my immediate peers, who would support my career development. At a previous job, I had been tapped to be the successor to my vice president; however, when that vice president left, I found that many of my future colleagues were only moderately aware of my accomplishments.
Unfortunately, I was passed over for that promotion because the other vice presidents did not know me personally and had limited exposure to what I could bring to the position. From that point on, I have made it a point to engage with people in other teams and other departments in order to build a professional network.
I learned that it’s not only important to deliver results or be a strong leader, but equally important to build credibility and relationships with a wide variety of people who will support you as you strive to achieve your aspirations across the enterprise. I also recognized that while this supports my professional growth, it is just as critical to achieving results that will be sustainable for any enterprise-wide programs.