How Cisco and Women of Wearables collaborated to inspire 62 future girls in tech

During the February 2017 school holidays, 44 girls in London and 18 girls aged 16-18 in Manchester were chosen from a number of applicants vying for a spot on the Cisco Pathway to Your Future work experience program.

It was a pilot that Cisco decided to run especially for girls to address the lack of women in IT.

Pathway to Your Future is a four day work experience program at Cisco that allows the girls to discover how the world leader in IT operates on a daily basis, meet senior Cisco executives from different departments, see demonstrations of Cisco’s leading edge technology and more importantly, learn and understand how Cisco connects what was previously unconnected. The Internet of Everything.

Helen Douglas from Manchester, Sam Moylan-Heydt and Kathryn Baddeley from London were instrumental in organising the pilot program for the girls. They also wanted to ensure that the girls not only learned about Cisco, its technology and how it works, but they also wanted the girls to learn the other skills that are not only necessary but imperative in any business environment.

Presentation and communication skills, problem solving and teamwork are skills that are often overlooked in education but are so important in the business world. These skills need to be taught to every young person to provide them with the confidence they need when entering the real world.

The girls were also tasked with working as a team to develop an IoT solution to solve a social problem and seek funding in a Dragon’s Den type pitch!

I was asked to help kick off the program by sharing my entrepreneurial journey of how I started MadeWithGlove, a Manchester based wearable tech company designing fashionable heated gloves for women. It was live streamed from Manchester to London with Cisco’s amazing technology of course!

Being the CEO of MadeWithGlove is a journey filled with achievements and challenges of being asked “how old are you?” to “are you the secretary?” and comments like “your business sounds like a hobby”. However, it was important for me to share with the girls that a woman can empower herself by responding to these comments and questions in a confident and professional manner. Because situations like these may occur during their professional life one day and giving them the tools to overcome these challenges will help them build their self esteem.

While on my 3 year journey as a sole female founder,  the lack of women in wearable tech led me to starting Women of Wearables (WoW) with a fellow woman in wearable tech, Marija Butkovic, cofounder of Kisha, the smart umbrella.

Both former lawyers turned entrepreneurs, we started WoW in 2016. WoW is a community that inspires, supports and connects women in wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, AR and VR. We organise and host events and deliver wearable tech workshops for girls in Manchester and London. The aim of our organisation is to encourage more women to participate in building hardware and software products.

WoW now has a global community of female founders, product and UX designers, consultants, engineers, smart textile experts and researchers, who are role models to women and girls who either want to enter the wearable tech and IoT industry or are already in the industry.

Because without role models, you cannot be what you cannot see.

After my quick overview of the wearable tech industry, Marija, Rachael, Annie and I taught the girls how to make their very own light up bracelets using conductive thread to build a circuit and sew the LEDs into the bracelets. While they built the tech and learnt about electronics, the best part of the workshop was decorating their bracelets to suit their own personal style. Because wearable tech should be about the fashion as much as about the tech.

Our workshop was an absolute success and all the bracelets lit up for the girls to wear and enjoy. Mission accomplished!

When I returned as a Dragon for the pitching event 3 days later, the difference in the girls’ demeanour and behaviour from the first day was clear. In 3 short days, the girls gained a sense of confidence, team camaraderie and the atmosphere in the Cisco office was electric. It was a pleasure to see the change in the girls from shy teenagers on day one to now confident and strong contenders for the Cisco apprenticeship and graduate programs.

Their pitches were of a very high standard, their presentations were impressive, the fact gathering and research conducted were of a high calibre and they successfully answered the tough questions by us Dragons. The ideas included Fight the Spike, Dia-Bling, Help and Seek refugee app, Hazard Bomber jacket, Speed Alert, Traffi Politeens App, Medigo, Speaker Verification Service, Greenhouse, Opus education solution, VMed, and Global Glasses.

There could only be one winner each in Manchester and London and they were Fight the Spike and Global Glasses!

While the winners received a prize, the real prize was the whole experience from the four days that Helen, Sam and Kathryn provided to the girls. It took a whole team at Cisco to inspire 62 girls, to build their confidence, to show them that they can be who they can see by introducing them to women holding different positions at Cisco and to show them how Cisco technology could be applied to solve real problems.

Their ideas were challenged and while they were taken out of their comfort zone, it was all within a safe environment to push those boundaries and let them shine.

And shine they did.

I am so pleased for Women of Wearables to be involved in Cisco’s Pathway to Your Future pilot program. We believe that by encouraging more girls to learn about tech will help reduce the gender gap that is apparent in the tech industry. We believe it can only be achieved by collaborations between startups, different organisations and corporates to give the girls a balanced view of the tech world.

The government also needs to be proactive by joining us in making the necessary step towards investing in our future girls in tech.

I left them with a quote I heard from another woman in tech:

“You can be a princess and you can also build your own castle”.

This blog was written by Michelle Hua – public speaker, writer, Founder & CEO of Made With Glove Ltd, a UK wearable tech start-up designing fashionable heated gloves for women. She is also a STEM Ambassador and the co-founded Women of Wearables, an organisation that supports, inspires and connects women in wearables, the IoT and augmented and virtual reality.