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Shifting Gender Stereotypes: Ten Years of Cisco's Women Rock-IT

By Emma Reid

Shifting Gender Stereotypes: Ten Years of Cisco's Women Rock-IT

By Emma Reid

Published 06-19-24

Submitted by Cisco Systems, Inc.

A group of smiling people posed together.

Ten years ago, Cisco Networking Academy launched the Women Rock-IT initiative in the APJC region to help address the gender imbalance in the tech industry.

The program was designed to show young women that there is a future for them in tech, with activities including Learn-A-Thons, volunteer events, and live virtual broadcasts featuring prominent women in IT who could serve as inspiring role-models for Women Rock-IT participants. During this time, Women Rock-IT has hosted 82 broadcast events with 141 speakers, seen by over 2 million viewers, resulting in 868,481 course registrations.

Current LinkedIn data suggests women compromise just 29.2% of all Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) workers. Because this underrepresentation of women in the STEM workforce today reinforces an underrepresentation in the future, it is vital we address this issue.

At Cisco our corporate purpose is to power an inclusive future for all, and addressing a gender imbalance in STEM is an integral part of that.

Attracting women to tech

I’m thrilled to report that efforts like Women Rock-IT are paying off. Over the past ten years, we’ve increased the presence of women and girls in Cisco Networking Academy courses from 20 percent to 27 percent, globally. Clearly, we have further to go, but a 35 percent increase in participation of women in the program is a significant achievement that speaks volumes about our collective dedication.

Big issues

Every year since the inception of Women Rock-IT in 2013, women at the cutting edge of technological innovation speak about their experience in the field. Participants gain valuable insights about how women can thrive in what is still too frequently seen as a male domain.

From its first regional APJC speaker Monica Morrow who, at the time, was the region’s Chief Technical Officer and spoke about having a seat at the table, to last year’s inspiring global panel broadcasting on successfully applying technology to climate tech challenges, Women Rock-IT participants get to hear from those who have forged meaningful careers in tech, addressing pressing issues of the day.

Girls in ICT Day: a marquee Women Rock-IT event

The annual marquee event of Women Rock-IT aligns with International Girls in ICT Day. This year, the Women Rock-IT program addressed Artificial Intelligence (AI), which has the potential to change everything, along with its inherent ethical challenges.

AI is set to change the world, and tomorrow’s IT workforce needs to be AI-literate. In our Q2 FY24 Cisco Networking Academy Student Outcome Survey of 1,400 students, 63 percent of Cisco Networking Academy students tell us they are using AI today and 17 percent already have advanced skills in this area.

We are proud our students are at the leading edge of technology learning. In fact, 88 percent of our students believe Cisco Networking Academy is at the forefront of this rapidly evolving tech world.

Our recent Cisco Networking Academy student survey reveals that 53 percent of males are already harnessing AI at work, compared to just 44 percent of females, but that more women than men are eager for AI education.

Girls in ICT Activities

This year’s Girls in ICT Day on April 25 impacted 36,025 students reached via the live broadcast, Global Learn-A-Thon, and Cisco employee volunteer events, with 1.23 million reach on social media channels.

Congratulations to the Women Rock-IT team and Cisco volunteers for orchestrating a truly impactful Girls in ICT Day event. It was an inspiring showcase that highlighted our commitment to fostering diversity in the tech industry.

Inspiring speakers

For our live broadcast, leading women in AI shared their experience in the field.

Dr. Tanya Berger-Wolf discussed her work as a computational ecologist working at the unique intersection of computer science, wildlife biology, and social sciences. Tanya is Director of the Translational Data Analytics Institute and Professor of Computer Science Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, as well as Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology at the Ohio State University.

Dr. Elizabeth Bondi-Kelly, Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan explored the impact of AI on society. She discussed ethical considerations of AI and advocates for responsible AI development to mitigate risks and ensure beneficial outcomes for all.

Global Learn-A-Thon

This year, the Global Learn-A-Thon saw students team-up to take introductory courses in Data Science or Cybersecurity, with a digital badge awarded to those achieving 70 percent or more on their exam and a Cisco Learn-A-Thon experience digital badge.

“I am really inspired by Women Rock-IT,” says attendee Thendeka Zesuliwe Zikode from rural Bergville, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. “My wish is to study more and get full support in technology and AI, so that I can help other girls around my ’hood.”

Cisco events

Over 230 Cisco volunteers organized events in Cisco offices and schools worldwide this year. Attendees were able to meet women working for Cisco and talk to them about their experience in tech.

Get involved

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the Cisco employees, Academy partners and instructors, and our speakers for getting behind Girls in ICT. The impact this makes wouldn’t be possible without you.

Learn how you can get involved in 2025

Women Rock-IT

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