Silka Patel is a Marketing Manager in the Service Provider area in Europe & Emerging Markets for Cisco Systems, Inc. Silka has been with Cisco for 7+ years and has held positions in a variety of roles in different parts of the business ranging from Commercial & Enterprise support roles to project management and marketing. Previously Silka worked in the Travel Industry in marketing roles for Thomas Cook and P&O Cruises.
Silka is the founder of Scotland Women in Technology which has been established since 2009 and leads the internal Cisco Connected Women’s Group for Scotland and has continued to drive successful relations with external women’s organizations to provide Cisco with more scope for future employment.
Cisco is a multinational coporation, headquartered in San Jose in California, United States. It designs, manufacturers and sells networking equipment. Cisco is the worldwide leader in networking that transforms how people connect, communicate and collaborate.
i)How did you decide upon a career in technology? Did you study science subjects at school/college?
I had always enjoyed studying science subjects at secondary school but could not see a career path for me in this area as my passion was in exploring the world and not being tied down to a ‘desk job’. Technology played a day to day part in my University life, however the ‘geeky’ image was something that turned me off from pursuing this as a career.
ii) What was the attitude towards technology as a career choice for women from school/college careers advisors?
Technology was something that you encompassed into normal life but specific roadmaps for career paths in IT were never presented unless you wanted to be a computer programmer or software engineer.
iii) Have you experienced any discrimination/barriers to progress or would you consider being a woman in a male dominated environment to be an advantage?
Being a woman in IT has its advantages. Often I find my views and opinions differ from my male colleagues and this has been to my advantage as it opens up the dynamics of a working group and allows for a more varied approach in business. I’ve been fortunate in my career in IT to date to be surrounded and supported my strong female role models and therefore often do not notice the gender imbalance!
iv) Do you think that there are any differences in attitudes/opportunity for girls choosing a career in technology now compared to when you made your career choices?
For sure! Technology was not consumed at the rate it is now when I was young in my career journey. Girls today live, breath and learn IT without even knowing it! There are more knowledgeable career advisors and platforms to showcase the varied roles in technology now, although I do believe the work is not done…we still have to change the mind sets in order to encourage better uptake in this sector.
v)What, if anything, does your organisation do to encourage more women into the sector?
Cisco has been actively working towards encouraging women into the business through various programs and initiatives. They scale from enabling flexible working opportunities, business networking and mentoring to local school outreach programs. As many other IT companies we also have internal support groups who not only actively seek opportunities to encourage women into the industry but also support women on career progression and development. With the help of Cisco, I founded Scotland Women in Technology (SWIT) which is an external group of IT companies who have a base in Scotland where we aim to encourage women and young people into this sector and support those in our business on their career journey.
vi) What do you think could be/needs to be done to increase the number of women entering technology businesses?
We know from numerous reports that organisations with a strong female representation at board and top management level perform better than those without.
The stark lack of women in technology is set to continue unless more is done to educate, support and encourage women on the wide range of career opportunities that exist in both technical and non-technical roles. After all technology is one of our few growth sectors in this economic climate, so importantly it is a good long term bet as a career option!
vii) What do you think can be done to encourage women to stay in technology businesses and to advance to senior/board level positions?
This is exactly what SWIT aims to do by encouraging and supporting those women in IT to progress up the career ladder. Providing specific skills workshops and access to female role models is proving to be our most valuable assets.
viii) Do you think that the increased use of social media/internet technologies make technology in general more acceptable to women/girls?
Yes. We are starting to break away from the ‘geeky’ image that IT has traditionally been branded with as more sexy technology becomes available and consumable by both genders in this digital age.
ix) Is there anything else you would like to add?
Working for a technology company has enabled me to achieve a better work/life balance. I currently cover a role which is Europe & Emerging markets without really having to travel to do this thanks to technology like video conferencing and Cisco TelePresence to have meetings with colleagues as if I were in the same room with them, all from my own home or office! This makes me more productive by cutting travel time dramatically and means that rather than spending half my working week on a plane or in traffic I am able to have much more time with my family.