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It’s hard enough being a single mom, juggling work and family, in an average year. But add in 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic and cultural upheaval, and many women are stretched to the breaking point. Some companies are rising to the occasion in how they support women and celebrate their team’s individuality during this time. Cisco is one of them. It doesn’t top the annual “World’s Best Workplaces'' list by Fortune and Fairygodboss’s list of “Best Technology Companies'' for nothing. They even have the hashtag #WeAreCisco to prove it.  

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Jodi Swanson is the Project Manager Delivery Lead for Cisco, which is well-known for its hardware, software, and service offerings. As a single mother, she’s used to being asked how she gets it all done. She recently told Fairygodboss:  “I will tell you, being a project manager for a living comes in very handy here – but I do my best to set boundaries as well.”

Swanson’s also the Founder of the “Women of Strength” Facebook community group. She recently shared with Fairygodboss how a meditation app, a strategic meeting schedule, and the value of a supportive team are some of the ways she makes both parenting and career success during a pandemic possible.

Tell us a bit about your current role. What are your priorities? Paint a picture of a typical day for me. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before you go to sleep?  

I play the Daily Calm meditation app from bed. Yes, I may be scolded for not sitting “in an upright position,” but it works for me and sets my day. I am a single mom to a 12-year-old boy with anxiety who is homeschooling. So, I tell him I love him and make sure he is on school (I will have one or two catastrophes to solve for and at least one will happen while I’m leading a meeting on camera). I fast almost every day using the Zero app (because it makes me feel amazing), so I count the minutes till I can eat again. Make my bed, wash my face, and get dressed for the day. I think this is so important when you work from home as it takes me out of the ‘at home’ mindset to the ‘office’ mindset. Then, I begin my day job. I work to keep most of my meetings in the middle of the week, so I have Friday to catch up and Monday to sink in. I hand write out my agenda at the end of every day, so I know what I need to do the next day.  There is something about handwriting it and making myself little boxes to check off that calms me, especially when I am drinking from the fire hose.

What does “balance” mean to you, and in what ways do you feel like you’ve achieved it? 

I am an artist and I love giving back. I realize I am a better mother and employee when I can do what I am passionate about. I started a project on Facebook called Women of Strength that combines these two things. As I have my son 24/7, the most popular question I get asked is, “How do you make time for it all?” I will tell you, being a project manager for a living comes in very handy here – but I do my best to set boundaries as well. I create a lot after he goes to bed, but I also schedule two nights of the week with my son that are set – game night and movie night. He’s my priority and he gets that time, then the other time is for me. I also don’t watch too much TV and take that time back for myself – if we think about how much time is spent watching TV or chatting on the phone, it adds up. Boundaries…they are not always easy, but always a must. Time is so precious, and I choose carefully where I spend it, especially with so much on my plate.

Attaining work-life balance can’t be done solo. What people, resources, and tools do you rely on to get it all done?  

My manager is EVERYTHING and so is my team I work with.  Loving my job has a lot to do with my manager. As a single mom to a son with anxiety, she gets it. She tells me to drop off a call with her early to snuggle him and is my biggest cheerleader – she has bonded our entire team like family.  Our team is the best of the best and will cover each other no matter what. We are not competitive peers, we are one. We laugh, cry and work like one force. We are filled with diversity, have the freedom to speak safely, and learn from each other’s differences.  

What’s one misconception you think exists around work-life balance today?

That you cannot block time for yourself during the day. I will block time to go on a bike ride or do yoga.  Sometimes we feel we have to say “Yes” to everything and when we do that too much, we end up doing a lot of stuff that isn’t great. We start to resent it and just want it over.  Saying “No” to more can sometimes mean we achieve more.

Let’s talk about your company’s culture. What’s your favorite aspect of it, and how does your employer aid you in achieving balance?  

With Cisco overall, I am grateful that they empower us to hold each other and our managers accountable to the Cisco culture they have worked hard to create. They will talk about the hard stuff, use actions to back up their words and that means everything. I love, love, love they give us 5 days a year to give back.  In 2021, I will be helping share the story of a woman in Africa who is trekking through rural Kenya to help educate families and schools on children with autism. Many of them are not getting the support they need or are being bullied. I will be using my five days to get to her and help her raise awareness by sharing her incredible story.

What’s something you think most people (perhaps even current employees) don’t know about your company that you think they should? 

Cisco understands that our individual uniqueness makes us who we are – and is a big reason we are #1 on the World’s Best Workplaces list. My co-workers show up with tattoos, vibrant colored hair and a Black Sabbath poster behind them on Webex calls remind me all the time of how lucky we are to have a company that embraces our unique qualities. I can write funny out of offices mailers and not always sound like I am straight out of a newly created PowerPoint slide. We don’t have to hide who we are at work – rather we are celebrated for who we are and what we bring to our teams and the company.  

What’s been your favorite career mistake? 

Whenever I have been caught judging someone – the most painful parts of my life have been when I have been judged. So, I have worked hard to be non-judgmental and to be open and welcoming. I’m disappointed in myself whenever I catch myself judging. It humbles me and reminds me that I am always a student…a continuous work in progress.

What’s the No. 1 piece of advice you would give to other women who want to excel professionally and personally? 

Find a passion and be true to it and honor that in other people. Some people’s identity is their work but understand that is not the case for everyone and respect that.  Share your passion and take the time to learn about others. Status and title don’t always matter – not in the way society wants us to think they do anyway. We are all human and all have stories to share. My favorite title is that I am the granddaughter of the high school janitor. I am so proud of that. As the incredible woman who hired me always says, “If you make it, you have an obligation to send the elevator back down.” Look at each other with kindness first and remember we have all been at a starting point where we are new, unsure, and in need of some guidance. Send the elevator down.

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