Warrior charges towards internet of everything
Cisco’s Padmasree Warrior is as good with people as she is with technology
Padmasree Warrior: ‘You have to . . . make time for what you want to do.’ photograph: aidan crawley
People don’t easily forget Padmasree Warrior. She has a memorable name and job as technology giant Cisco’s chief technology and strategy officer. She also has the knack of making technology understandable and, in lively, visionary talks, connecting with individuals and audiences.
All that makes Indian-born Warrior, who has nearly 1.5 million followers on Twitter, one of the most highly visible women in a male-dominated industry.
Being a very visible woman in the technology industry has placed Warrior on some recent lists of eligible and capable female technologists for Twitter’s board, during the ongoing brouhaha about Twitter’s failure to have a single woman director as it goes for its initial public offering.
“I generally feel the more diverse the board is, the more effective it tends to be,” she says, noting that she does not wish to comment on any specific situation at other companies. “Cisco is very diverse. We have three women on the board and each brings a different perspective.”
Warrior sits on numerous boards herself, most recently, as a newly-appointed director at clothing retailer Gap. But the issue is broader than simply board positions, she says.
“I think, firstly, there needs to be more women in technology, in general. If you look at the numbers in actual technology roles, it’s very limited.”
Therefore, she feels that for her, given her role, it’s important to be visible. “Women need visible role models.”
To that end, she mentors other women and regularly speaks at other technology companies and events.
While there is a wide range of skills and roles available in the tech sector, she says that having a business and technology background remains very helpful to succeeding in technology companies.
For women working in such companies, “the more contact with technology, the less alienated they feel”.
Traditionally, technology fields were seen as “very isolating” to women, probably due to a lack of direct training in engineering, she thinks.
For women, fitting in can be more complicated. “We were taught that to be an engineer, we had to be like a man,” she recalls. “That’s changing. And the new areas of technology [such as internet and social media companies] – it’s making it much more human.
“Also, what’s changing is that technology is becoming a much more multidisciplinary domain.”
Knowing how to code makes a huge difference, she says. “Yes, the more professionally trained [in technology] you are, the more comfortable you will be. You have a foundation for working with your team.”
Warrior has spoken recently on another conflict for women in work: the idea of trying to “have it all”. She thinks having it all should be more nuanced. “Having it all doesn’t mean doing it all, and it doesn’t mean doing it all perfectly.”
She doesn’t like that tired phrase, work-life balance, either. “I don’t like ‘balance’. I prefer ‘integration’,” she says.
That means realistic compromise. “It is unrealistic to say, every day I need to leave work at five and be home for dinner.” Sometimes that works out, and given daily schedules and obligations, sometimes it doesn’t, she says.
Initially she tried to take work home when her now 20-year-old son was a baby, and combine exercise, work and mothering all at once, but she says it was exhausting and eventually, impossible. She found separating her work life and her home life made things more sane.