Silma Lange is a Global Program Manager at Cisco and a regional lead for Cisco’s Pride Employee Resource Organization (ERO) that focuses on creating an environment where people can bring their whole, diverse selves to work. She says Cisco is a uniquely supportive place, not only because of its inclusive benefits and programs, but because of the people and their human approach to everyday business.
How did Lange end up in a role that she loves at a place where she can make a difference? And how is she using her power to give back to the LGBTQ+ community? Recently, she shared more about her career journey, the people who inspire her, the best career mistake she’s ever made and the advice she has for women who are looking for their dream roles right now.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I have been in my current role in Sales Strategy and Planning for two years, on a team focused on Strategic Sales Enablement. Before that, I led a Learning and Development function in one of the larger groups in our Operations organization.
Why Cisco? How did you come onboard?
My interest in tech and love for the Internet was probably what drew me to Cisco. The opportunity to join as a project manager came my way from one of my professors in Industrial/Organizational Psychology while I was in graduate school. After a year as a project manager, I was hired full-time and have been with the company since.
What’s the first (and/or last) thing you do at work every day?
On my best days, I start with a short mindfulness practice, go through my calendar and sort my priorities. Since I’m one of the few folks in my group who live on the West Coast, I often start early and jump straight on a Webex instead.
What’s the most unique or interesting aspect of Cisco?
At Cisco, giving back is a part of our culture. All employees get 40 hours per year to use for a cause (or causes) of our choice. People apply it in all kinds of awesome ways, from 3D-printing masks for doctors to raising money for charities and helping people find jobs.
I apply my passion for inclusion and diversity as a regional lead for our Employee Resource Organization (ERO) for LGBTQ+ employees. Identifying as a minority — whether it is due to orientation, ethnicity or in other ways — can limit a person’s ability to access and take advantage of resources at work. Through our events, programs and partnerships, we work to create an environment where people can show up fully as their whole, diverse selves without concern about negative consequences.
What’s something you think most people (perhaps even current employees) don’t know about Cisco that you think they should?
Our benefits are amazing. We have a global benefits team who works on making sure our benefits are inclusive; there is family planning and care for all family constellations, emergency time off and care for aging parents, support for employees who are transitioning (changing one's gender presentation and/or sex characteristics to correspond with their internal sense of gender identity) and much more.
What’s your favorite mistake?
Looking back at the times I had either an idea, solution or a chance to make an impact, but didn’t take it. This could be either because I thought it wasn’t my place, I was sensitive to politics or risk averse. It’s my favorite because it reminds me to trust my competence, vision and leadership today, and to be ok with risking failure in order to have a broader, positive impact.
What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?
I am grateful that I had the chance to move and work abroad, and proud that I accepted the challenge. Now I am reaping the benefits both in the form of opportunities and through what I learned about adaptability and intercultural competencies. Highly recommend it!
What do you love most about your job or Cisco?
The people I work with and everything I learn from them on a daily basis. I am so honored to be surrounded by great minds and hearts, and to feel like I am constantly growing both in my knowledge of the industry and technology, as well as on a personal level.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women who are looking for jobs right now?
Know yourself: the good, the bad and the unique. The better your relationship with yourself, the more likely you are to identify the right opportunities, connect with people who can point you in the right direction and to do well in an interview setting. Take the time to get comfortable with your strengths and figure out how to work it to your advantage. Accept and work on your areas of improvement, but don’t over-rotate on them.
Who is the most influential person in your life and why?
My sister has been one of the most influential people in my life. We are seven years apart, which I think was lucky for me growing up, because she has been many things to me: a big sister, a ‘third parent’ and a life-long friend. She is intelligent, curious, creative, funny, open and caring. Moreover, she’s probably the person who knows me and understands me the best (even at my worst), and I don’t know what I would do without her.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
In the PRIDE ERO, we talk a lot about authenticity and bringing our whole selves to work. I’ve gotten this message from various people in a lot of forms and it’s always memorable. In the end it’s about finding the sweet spot between your work self, personal self and your passion, where you can add the most value to others and feel true to yourself.
What was the best quality of the best boss you’ve ever had?
At their best, they gave me autonomy while having my back; meaning they would let me take something and run with it, knowing I could always come to them for advice and support.
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