Reflecting on International Women’s Day and the theme this year is cracking the code: innovation for a gender equal future. In STEM industries, women make up about 27% of the workforce on average. There is clearly more to do to achieve a gender equal future.

Cisco Australia was recently recognised by Work 180 – which sets, reviews, and drives global standards to deliver great workplaces for women. Cisco received two awards for policies on pay equity and inclusive anti-discriminatory culture. And Cisco was ranked #2 out of 100 best places to work for women in Australia by Work180 in the Equity Audit Report.

While this recognition helps with creating an inclusive future, there is more we can all do as an industry. We spoke to a few team members within our organisation to understand what this year’s theme means for them.

Corien Vermaak – head of cybersecurity, Cisco Australia & New Zealand

To say I am passionate about diversity in the IT sector is an understatement. I started my career as a technology lawyer and feel in love with the technology sector for its ability to innovate – in its way of thinking, addressing solutions, and a way to make a difference.

There is more for us to do to innovate in the diversity space, particularly keeping children and women safe online and creating safe citizens overall. I always think: if you can see her, you can be her. I would say to any woman on the fence – consider STEM subjects or careers in technology. Our industry needs you, and your unique and innovative thinking can change the way we think about the world.

Kelly Sabo – head of small to medium business team, Cisco Australia & New Zealand

Innovation to me means driving change in a range of different areas, including giving women in developing countries access to emerging technologies and education. I’m passionate about driving innovation with small to medium business owners and how we can accelerate this further by supporting female entrepreneurs.

I think one element of innovation that we do well at Cisco is our focus on hybrid work to enable people to work from anywhere at any time – making it more accessible for everyone to work virtually and in person, and be more flexible. I think if we can continue to embrace hybrid working overall, we will see even more women leading in business, and starting their own small businesses.

Aruna Jeram – Partner Account Manager, Cisco New Zealand

New Zealand was the first country to grant women the right to vote in 1893 after a long campaign by Kate Sheppard which was seen as innovative at the time, aiming to improve quality of life and essential in achieving economic and political equality.

Awareness is not just thinking about this topic for a day. Sharing our lived experiences is a good way to raise awareness and challenge mindsets as well as having ongoing conversations and acting on the small things – like ensuring women have equal access to education and creating inclusive workplaces. Hybrid work has also brought about more opportunities to close the divide.

Vanessa Sulikowski – distinguished systems engineer, Cisco Australia & New Zealand 

I would love to see technology innovation being applied to situations where we can potentially overcome unconscious bias because it’s always there. Should we allow technology to give us a bit more randomisation? For instance, if an educator were marking reports or exams that were just identified by a number instead of a name, then at the backend there was a matching of number with the name so the grade is awarded for content but the person who is marking doesn’t know the specific individual. What if we look at AI parsing resumes for skills and expertise, could this ignore all of other identifiers so that no unconscious bias comes into play? Technology potentially has a key part to play here.

Seema Hyne – customer success executive, Cisco Australia & New Zealand 

Education has been fundamental to opening up numerous opportunities in my career in technology.  Growing up my mother told me that “you can be stripped of your personal belongings, but no one can strip you of your education” and those words have always stuck.  If we are to drive innovation, then we need to have diversity of thought and capture diverse perspectives in the mix.  So for me “cracking the code” is about ensuring that every girl or woman wherever they are in the world has access to an education, access to technology and presented with the same opportunities.  I am a huge champion for diversity and I have been fortunate enough to be able to integrate this passion through my workplace.  At Cisco we are in a unique position, via our technology and our amazing people to enable this. It’s also given me the platform to participate in giving back projects outside of the workplace, focussed on educating young girls in rural Fiji.

Fiona Stone – director of strategy, operations and planning, Cisco Australia & New Zealand

One of the best ways to crack the code and really ensure women are recognised for their talent, skills and accomplishments is equal pay. I was quite proud to see Cisco was recognised for its pay equity measures as this is important. Innovation to me is not only thinking about things differently, but also having the right support structures in place, including equal pay, to recognise and reward people and their contributions – no matter their gender, and help them to be at their best.