All the tech innovations at Collision 2019 can’t hide the fact that most leadership positions in the industry are not occupied by women, says Rola Dagher, president of Cisco Canada.

“I think we’ve done a good job so far from a diversity inclusion [perspective], specifically in technology, but we have a very long way to go,” indicated Dagher. “In the technology space, only 15 per cent of women are in director roles, or below director roles in technology.”

Dagher explained that while diversity and equality is an important consideration, ultimately, potential candidates need to be hired based on their skills and merits rather than fulfilling a quota.

“As a leader at Cisco, it’s been amazing to see the changes we’ve made from our CEO down to my level, where our CEO’s leadership team is 50 per cent women. At my level, we’re almost at 45 per cent as females. But for me, I don’t hire people to check the box, I hired people for talent and making sure we have the right talent at the right time. For the right positions, because to me, it’s not about checking the box of color, gender, or race, it’s about ensuring that talent that you’re going to bring in has everything it takes to get to get the job done.”

The conversation to invoke interest in STEM subjects — for both men and women — needs to start at an early age and heavily falls upon parental vigilance. Dagher believes that parents need to abandon a strict gender-biased mentality when it comes to steering their children towards a certain career.

“I think it starts at home. And it has to start at a very, very young age. If your daughter at five-years-old is interested in technology, there are so many programs out there that you could start encouraging your daughter, or your son to go into that career. You can’t say because she’s a girl, she shouldn’t be doing this. And he’s a guy, he should go into engineering.”

WOI2019-Rola Dagher Cisco
Cisco Canada President Rola Dagher (second from left) at the Women of Impact 2019 event with other attendees. (Source: Cisco)

An equally critical component in shaping a gender-diverse tech workforce is ensuring kids can have all the resources they need in early education. Schools need to support more high-quality programs to allow kids to experiment and experience the different facets of technology.

“It has to start in elementary school as well. Because by the time by the time a girl is a nine-year-old, she’s already kind of thinking: ‘Okay, this is what I want to do’, and there are enough programs that week and camps in the summer that you can guide your kids to go through it.  So today is the digital transformation, the fourth industrial revolution, where all you have is technology, and it is impacting human progress. So kids have so much more than they can do with verses 20 and 30 years ago because we didn’t have that luxury.”

Currently, Dagher is the president of Cisco’s Connected Women, a program that highlights female leaders in the technology space. She also frequently participates in Cisco events including Cisco Women Entrepreneurship, Girls Who Code, as well as the Connected North program.

In February, Rola Dagher was named as the “2019 Woman of the Year” at Women in Communications and Technology’s Leadership Excellence Award. Before helming the executive position at Cisco Canada, Dagher was the vice-president for Dell EMC’s Infrastructure Solutions Group. Throughout her career, Dagher has over 25 years of experience in leadership and the vendor market space.


*A previous version of this story included a byline for Alex Coop, but it was Tom Li who wrote the story. We apologize for the error.

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